Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 | Author: mjward

Children, American citizens, are too often caught in the crosshairs of the child welfare system and immigration enforcement. Both systems believe in protecting children, but their policies often work against each other to put children in jeopardy. A report from November 2011 by the Applied Research Center, Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system, details the damage caused by conflicting rules.

Let’s take an example. A woman we’ll call Mariana had been working in New Mexico for six years. She had two children born in the U.S. She had separated from their father, and he had returned to their original country. After immigration officials received a tip that Mariana was working at a local factory was in the United States illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested her at her workplace. They charged her with being in the country without proper documentation and took her to a detention center about 90 miles away. They refused to let her make a phone call to arrange for someone to look after her children, who were in an informal daycare home. Instead ICE officers called the local Child Protection Services (CPS) and her two children, aged 4 and 5, were taken to an emergency home. Mariana was not allowed to attend the court hearing that gave CPS custody of the children.

When it was clear that Mariana would not be released soon, the children were moved to a longer-term foster home. CPS drew up a plan so that the children could be returned to her. She was to take a parenting course and visit the children regularly. But ICE did not provide such a course at the detention center and would not let her out so that she could enrol in one. Because the center was so far from where the children were, they could not visit her regularly. Besides, the atmosphere there was not good for children. Mariana’s extradition case dragged on. Time ran out. The court judged that Mariana had not fulfilled the requirements for getting her children back and terminated her parental rights. The children were placed for adoption.

Mariana was not a negligent mother. She had been raising her children well. She lost them only because she was an undocumented immigrant. The story need not have unfolded that way. In fact, both ICE and CPS believe (on paper) in keeping families together. But their policies too often work to separate them.

For example, ICE detains parents who are unlikely to disappear because they don’t want to leave their children. Instead they could be released into the community with supervision. Often detention takes place many miles from the parents’ home so that visiting is extremely difficult if not impossible. In addition, centers do not permit parents to fulfil agency and court requirements so that they can regain their children.

For its part, CPS is often reluctant to place children with relatives who are undocumented because social workers argue that the relatives may also be arrested and detained and the children will have to move again. They ignore the fact that foster homes are not permanent and that children can move from one to another. The requirements they set are often impossible for detained parents to fulfil, and the timelines are too short to allow for the length of detention. All too often, agency personnel do not contact the appropriate consulate if parents have been deported. Some also think that an American child is better raised in the United States with a substitute family than in another country with birth parents.

What can be done? Federal, state, and local governments need to create policies to protect families from separation. They need to develop alternatives to detention that allow families to stay together. Judges need to be given the discretion to consider the best interests of the children when deciding their care and custody. Parents of children, especially those in foster care, need to be given relief, including release into the community. Local authorities need to allow exceptions to the termination of parental rights for detained and deported parents. Policies are needed allowing parents to say who should take custody of their children. Agencies need to develop guidelines for working with consulates to enable reunification of families. When such regulations and policies are in place, then children need not lose their parents.

Sources:

Applied Research Center (ARC). (2011, November). Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://www.arc.org.

Pertman, A. (2011, November 8). Immigration and ‘shattered families’. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://adampertman.com/category/quick-thoughts/.

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