Bill Would Curb Foster Care Entries Linked to Deportation, Immigration Issues

A bill was introduced yesterday that aims to curb the number of children placed in foster care because of immigration enforcement, and end the termination of parental rights brought on because of deportation proceedings.

“While current law allows undocumented individuals to become a foster or adoptive parent, our child welfare system continues to be biased against undocumented caregivers,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who  introduced the Help for Separated Families Act yesterday, in a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives. “Undocumented parents love their children and want the best for them as all parents do.”

The legislation comes eight months after the release of a report from the Applied Research Center (ARC), which found 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the first six months of 2011, leaving more than 5,100 of those children in foster care.

ARC also visited six detention centers and interviewed almost 70 parents for the report. Nineteen had children in foster care, and many more said they feared that their children “might enter foster care because the child welfare system might decide that their children are not safe with their current caregiver or that the caregiver is too poor to support them,” according to the report.

“Immigration status in itself has become grounds to permanently separate families,” said Roybal-Allard, who was born in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, for decades an historic landing spot for immigrant families. “This is absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable – particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly.”

The Help Separated Families Act would amend Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, under which states receive matching funds through an entitlement that exceeds $6 billion each year. The changes would address four central issues:

-Child welfare standards at the state and county level must ensure that “the Immigration status alone of a parent, legal guardian, or relative shall not disqualify the parent, legal guardian, or relative from being a placement for a child.”

-Child welfare officials may not question the immigration status of any relatives seeking to have a child placed with them, “except to the extent necessary in determining eligibility for relevant services or programs.”

-Officials must accept legitimate foreign documents – such as a passport or consulate card – as sufficient identification with which to conduct a criminal background check.

Roybal-Allard included this in the legislation after learning that many caseworkers and attorneys mistakenly believe it is impossible to check a criminal history without the use of a Social Security number.

-Child welfare agencies may not file petitions to terminate the rights of parents “based on the removal of the parent from the United States or the involvement of the parent in an immigration proceeding,” including one leading to detention. The only exceptions to this would be if the agency could demonstrate to a judge that the  “parent is unfit or unwilling to be a parent of the child,” or if it can demonstrate that is has exhaustively sought family members inside and outside the United States to care for the child.

The requirements would take effect on the first of the day of the state fiscal year the followed a president’s signature on the law, unless a state demonstrated the need to pass legislation to comply with it.

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