New Bill H.R. 6128 Seeks to Keep Families Together

Proponents on both sides of the immigration debate feel strongly about their respective positions.  However, there is one affected population who is largely without a voice and left out altogether – the children of deported immigrant parents.  While these helpless victims didn’t choose their citizenship or parentage, the current laws unintentionally sever their relationships with birth parents and create a barrier to future reunification for their families.

A new bill introduced in Congress last summer by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D), to be co-sponsored by Karen Bass (D) when reintroduced in the next session, entitled H.R. 6128 – Help Separated Families Act of 2012, is intended to fix some of the problems with the current system. According to the Applied Research Center, more than 5,100 children were sent to foster care due to the detention or deportation of their immigrant parents in the first six months of 2011 alone. Foster care typically occurs without any consideration of placement with other family members, who frequently are themselves undocumented aliens and therefore deemed unacceptable guardians. Sadly, short of a foreign consulate getting involved, most of these children lose contact with their birth families for the rest of their lives after entering the child welfare system.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that the Applied Research Center estimates that if current trends continue, we could see the number of innocent children separated from their families due to deportation and immigration detention swell to 15,000 or more over the next 5 years.

As written, the proposed bill sets standards for states ensuring that immigration status alone does not disqualify relatives, parents and legal guardians from being acceptable guardians for a child when they are the best fit. States seeking placement for a child will be required to notify relatives that their immigration status won’t be questioned, except to the extent necessary in determining eligibility for services and programs. It further requires states to accept foreign documentation as sufficient proof of identification for accomplishing the required criminal background checks for child placement. And finally, it puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the state to ensure that every reasonable effort has been made (including working through foreign consulates) to notify birth parents and any relatives or extended family before the state can file for termination of parental rights.

In the current system, even after parents have been released and allowed to remain in the United States, the requirements to restore their custodial rights once their children have entered into the child welfare system are nearly impossible to attain given their immigration status.

While the new bill isn’t perfect, it is expected to go a long way towards keeping families together whenever possible. The bill as introduced has been endorsed by many national, regional and state child and family advocacy organizations.

If you have questions about immigration laws and rights, feel free to call Tien Nguyen of Brownstein Nguyen, LLC who specializes in the areas of immigration and family matters at (770) 458-9060, or email Tien at tgn@bnlawga.com. You can also find out more information at our website: http://www.bnlawatlanta.com.