California Families Shattered

California was running on low steam lately with the Governor’s announcement of vetoing the Trust Act, the bill that would have limited the use of Secure Communities for the sake of detaining illegal immigrants in the state. Yet the wind is behind the Governor’s back this week given that the law he signed last month is bearing fruit, and there is light beaming on the horizon. A recent report titled “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System” goes ahead and underscores the extent to which the detention of parents leads children to suffer as they are put in foster care and prevented from uniting with their families, as well as highlighting the failure of the welfare system to properly work to reunify these children with their families.

The rapidity with which everything develops from the point of being detained to the point of the child finding him or herself parentless is astounding. Once a person has been detained he is quickly taken to an immigration detention center miles away, often without a chance to make even a quick phone call to arrange for their child to be taken care of by other family members or the like. If child services cannot quickly locate relatives of the child, the detained parent can easily lose custody of their child for months, years even. There are currently several cases, one of which involves an undocumented mother who lost her parent rights in Missouri, and another one in North Carolina that involves a father who was deported and who was unable to visit his children for over two years while they were kept in foster care. In the State of Washington there is currently an appeals case pending regarding the reluctance of courts to place a child with his grandparents for the sole unfounded concern that the grandparent’s may be in the country illegally also. That is preposterous given that the courts deciding the custody of the children are meant to act in the children’s best interest and they are clearly not doing so and for absurd reasons at that.

The AB2015 “Calls for Kids” law ensures that parents that are detained can make calls to arrange for child care, and requires law enforcement officers to ask whether an arrestee is a parent and to inform them of their right to make two phone calls. The other law, SB1064, “Reuniting Immigrant Families” authorizes juvenile court judges to provide detained or deported parents with additional time to reunite with their children. The bill also makes it so that a person’s immigration status is not a disqualifying factor for placement of a child with a relative along with authorizing the use of a relative’s foreign consulate identification card or passport to be used so that a relative can become a child’s guardian. Additionally, the bill provides guidance to social workers on immigration relief options for kids in foster care, including the ability to confer them Special Immigration Juvenile Status, while also requiring the California Department of Social Services to provide guidelines and oversee counties and municipalities in establishing an understanding with appropriate foreign consulates in child custody cases. Clearly, this initiative is one that is one that has the children’s best interest at its core. We applaud Governor Brown for having had the foresight to make such a commendable decision for the welfare of the children of California.

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