The U.S. bishops have joined more than 130 organizations urging legislation to help reunite children who have been separated from family members due to immigration measures against their parents.
The Help Separated Families Act will help improve the chances that “children placed in the child welfare system as a result of immigration enforcement actions against their parents can ultimately reunify” with their family members, the groups said.
In a July 23 letter to members of Congress, they argued that the bill plays a “critical” role in ensuring that “child welfare practice upholds the principles of child well-being and family unity.”
Signatories of the letter included national and state-level organizations such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, National Alliance for Immigration Reform, Texans United for Families and DREAM Activist California.
The organizations voiced support for the Help Separated Families Act of 2012, which was introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.).
The bill would forbid immigration status alone from being a factor in decisions about child placement. It would prohibit questions about caregivers' immigration status, except for purposes of eligibility for relevant services and programs.
In addition, the proposed legislation would ensure that certain forms of foreign identification are adequate for a background check.
It would also provide for waivers of certain requirements that that would otherwise stop children from being placed with a relative due to a minor legal infraction.
Furthermore, the bill would prohibit child welfare agencies from filing for termination of parental rights in most cases when a parent's immigration proceedings are the main reason for the child being in foster care.
Signers of the July 23 letter argued that the Help Separated Families Act is a step forward in overcoming several significant “barriers to reunification.”
“The statistics clearly demonstrate that immigration enforcement activities are tearing families apart, sometimes permanently,” they said.
They pointed to reports by the Department of Homeland Security that over 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were removed from the U.S. during the first six months of 2011.
In addition, a report by the Applied Research Center indicates that about 5,100 children are currently in the child welfare system because of their parents' detention or removal.
“When a child enters the child welfare system, reunification efforts are often complicated by disconnects between the immigration system and state child welfare systems,” the signatories explained.
Although it is considered ideal to place children separated from their parents with other family members, many child welfare agencies will not place children with undocumented relatives, even if they are otherwise qualified to be caregivers, they said.
Furthermore, they observed, parents who are detained or removed for immigration reasons sometimes experience an “inappropriate termination of their parental rights” because they are not able to participate in family court hearings or meet case plan requirements.
To address these problems, the signers of the letter urged members of Congress to support the Help Separated Families Act.
Doing so, they said, will help to ensure that immigration enforcement policies do not leave children “permanently and unnecessarily torn apart from their parents or other family members.”