The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement instructed its field offices in late August to train parental rights coordinators, whose responsibilities will include assistance to parents involved in child welfare proceedings.
The ICE directive instructs local offices and partners on placement and monitoring policies for alien parents or guardians who are primary caretakers have U.S. citizen children or who have a pending interest in a family court proceeding.
Each ICE field office director must designate a specially trained “parental right coordinator” to supervise the reception and consideration of parental rights claims. Information on how to reach that point of contact must be posted visibly, in multiple languages, in all detention facilities, and on the ICE website.
In 2011, the Applied Research Center estimated that at least 5,100 children with a detained or deported parent were living in foster care, and that 15,000 more children are at risk of entering the child welfare system over the next five years.
The directive makes specific instructions on child welfare proceedings. Although the language creates loose exception, it is expected that a detained parent will be afforded the following considerations:
- The ability to be present in person at child welfare proceedings concerning the custody of his children.
- In cases where ICE will not transport the parent to a family court proceeding, efforts must me made to help them participate through video or phone conferencing.
- Court orders for visitation made by a family court must be accommodated by ICE field offices.
- In cases where a parent is set for deportation, ICE must assist in facilitating either the placement of children with a guardian in America or the return of the children with the deportee.
- For already deported parents, if termination of parental rights is on the table in family court, and the judge wants the deported parent in court for that, ICE must transport them back for the proceeding.
Oddly, the directive states that parental coordinators should work with various federal agencies to develop “training materials” for field offices. It does not state what training the coordinator must receive, and it also suggests that the quality of the materials could vary in each field office.
Field office directors must already consider the parental situation of potential detainees in the decision to arrest him. If an arrest is made, the parental situation should factor into the decision on whether the person is detained or returned to his community.
If credible parental interests come to light during processing or detention, field directors should “reevaluate any custody determination.” In cases where a parent is detained, the directive mandates that he be kept in a facility near his family unless it is impossible based on detention space availability.
The core tenants of the directive were included in a bipartisan amendment to the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act (S.744), which passed the Senate in June.
Between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, ICE issued a total of 204,810 removals for parents of U.S. citizen children, according to agency records.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint