California is explicitly asserting its responsibility for the care of immigrant children who land in California after coming to the United States without any adult to look after them.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to do so on Sept. 24 as President Joe Biden faces strong criticism even from some in his own party for how his administration has managed the living conditions and health needs a wave of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the country without a parent or guardian and taken into federal custody.
The bill Newsom approved, sponsored by Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas, requires the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson to oversee the treatment of these children who are placed by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement into state-licensed facilities, including ORR facilities. Typically, that’s where such kids wind up staying until they can be reunited with a family member or sponsor, or until they are placed in foster care.
Rivas says too little has been done to protect the welfare of the children, most of whom were desperate to escape extreme poverty and violence in their Central American homelands, according to the Sacramento Bee. Many reports, including one released two years ago by Disability Rights California attorneys, have documented that conditions in the federal facilities are overcrowded, unhealthy, uncomfortable and ill-equipped to handle youngsters, in part because the places were built for adults.
“ORR assessments and services fall short as compared to California state standards,” according to the Disability Rights California report.
The new law is just one of several aimed at helping immigrants that Newsom approved in recent weeks. Another one sponsored by Rivas removes the term “alien” from state statutes and replaces it with more neutral words, such as noncitizen or immigrant. Others clarify safety standards at detention facilities, strengthen protections under the state’s hate crime law, and allow Dreamers and other aspirants to U.S. citizenship to become members of county parties’ central committees.