By Adam Lane
California’s implementation of a state immigration reform law could reduce the number of children entering foster care, advocates and researchers suggest.
The California Trust Act, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), limits deportations to only those individual(s) who have committed serious crimes and not simply have minor convictions. It was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in the Fall of 2013 and took effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 133,551 immigrants from the United States in 2013.
The Trust Act addresses the way immigrant detentions are handled by local law enforcement, while clarifying the difference between serious and non-serious criminal offenders.
The bill specifically allows local law enforcement agencies to handle immigrant detentions rather than passing information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigrants with lighter criminal histories who are eligible for release will be let go by the local authorities, as opposed to being handed over to ICE.
The bill also raises the bar on ICE involvement by defining serious offenders as those who commit offenses including murder, rape, and other felonies that can be punished by imprisonment.
These changes are expected to minimize the placement of immigrants’ children in the foster care system. Cases have arisen where citizen children of immigrant parents have been placed into foster care due to a parent’s immigration detention.
“There was a woman who was selling tamales in front of a store, and jailed on suspicion of trespassing, and was held for two weeks on an ICE detainment even though she was never charged,” said Carlos Alcala, spokesman for Assemblyman Ammiano, in a phone interview. “Her citizen kids were put in temporary foster placement while she was being held, even though she had relatives in the area she could have been placed with.”
California is not the only state reforming its immigration system. In January of 2013, Massachusetts’ legislators introduced a bill similar to the Trust Act, meant to help its immigrant families through the curbing of information sharing between local law enforcement and ICE.
“As the President reexamines immigration reform, the rumor is that they are looking at what California is doing as a potential model for revision,” Alcala said.
The Trust Act was one of three bills signed into law in October of 2012 that is designed to keep families together. The other two:
Reuniting Immigrant Families Act, which permits courts to provide an extension in the family reunification period in case an immigrant parent is detained and also states that immigration status cannot be a factor in placing a child with a relative.
The Call for Kids Act, which allows custodial parents to make two additional phone calls to coordinate care for their children in case of detention.
Adam Lane is a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. He wrote this story while taking a course entitled Media for Social Change.