Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard Introduces Bills to Help Separated Immigrant Families and Children

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Washington, June 25, 2019 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) has introduced two crucial bills in response to the Trump Administration’s cruel and inhumane interior enforcement policies.  Separately, the bills help keep immigrant families together, and help protect immigrant children who are separated from their families.

The Help Separated Families Act of 2019 (H.R. 3452), which Congresswoman Roybal-Allard introduced with Congresswoman Norma J. Torres (CA-35), would take new steps to prevent the permanent separation of children from their immigrant parents, including helping to ensure that these children can remain with other family members while their parents are detained or deported, and strengthening the likelihood that the children can ultimately be reunited with their parents.  The Humane Enforcement and Legal Protection (HELP) for Separated Children Act of 2019 (H.R. 3451) seeks to reduce the devastating trauma inflicted on children who are torn away from their parents by immigration officials; the bill would let parents communicate with their children before being separated, allow detained parents to communicate with their children while the parents are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, and require ICE to consider the best interest of the children in the detention, release, or transfer of their parents.  Click here to see a list of more than 150 national and state organizations that have endorsed these bills.

“As President Trump threatens to carry out a new wave of ICE raids that will lead to further heartrending separations of immigrant families, it is vital that we fight to keep families together, and support the children who are being torn from their families by this administration’s despicable family separation policies,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.  “My bills will help ensure that children are not needlessly abandoned or unnecessarily separated from their parents due to immigration enforcement actions. I am glad to be joined by Congresswoman Norma Torres in this fight for more humane immigration policies.”

“Over the past year, we’ve seen the devastating effects of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy on children. We should be doing everything in our power to minimize their trauma and ensure they are welcomed into the arms of a loving parent or guardian,” said Congresswoman Torres. “I’m grateful to work with Congresswoman Roybal-Allard to reintroduce this bill to keep families together.”

“The recent threat of mass raids on families in the interior of the country underscores the importance of policies that mitigate the harm of enforcement actions on children,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).  “In our own research, we heard about such deeply disturbing practices during home raids as children being interrogated alone or being separated from family members. Children suffer significant trauma and long-term instability from raids, and entire communities also experience devastating effects. Rep. Roybal-Allard’s critical legislation would help ensure that children receive special protections during immigration enforcement actions and are not separated from their parents unnecessarily.”

“The HELP Separated Children Act and Help Separated Families Act would codify important safeguards to protect family unity, especially in the face of this administration’s cruel policies and immigration enforcement tactics that target and separate immigrant children and their families,” said Leah Chavla, policy advisor at the Women’s Refugee Commission.  “Together, these bills represent critical steps toward ensuring that parents, if apprehended, are able to make care arrangements for their children – something that ICE officers frequently fail to even ask about – and that their parental rights are not unnecessarily terminated. If enacted, families would be better protected from avoidable and needless permanent separations and the inherent and long-lasting harms they cause.” 

The Help Separated Families Act of 2019 – Background

When a child enters the child welfare system, reunification efforts with their families are often complicated by a lack of coordination between the federal immigration system and state child welfare systems.  It is considered a child welfare best practice to place children who are separated from their parents with other relatives, yet many child welfare agencies refuse to place children with otherwise qualified family members solely because the relatives are undocumented.  In addition, child welfare agencies may be reluctant to reunify children with a parent or relative outside of the U.S. following a parent’s removal, which can result in an inappropriate termination of parental rights.  As a result, children are needlessly separated from their parents.  

The Help Separated Families Act of 2019 aims to keep children of detained or deported parents united with their families. Specifically, the bill:
• Ensures that the immigration status of a parent, legal guardian, or relative caregiver is not by itself grounds for disqualification from being a placement for a child;
• Requires that child welfare agencies accept foreign documentation as sufficient identification for the purposes of a child welfare placement background check; and
• Prohibits child welfare agencies from filing for termination of parental rights in cases when a fit and willing parent or relative has been deported, detained, or is otherwise involved in an immigration proceeding, unless certain conditions have been met.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard first introduced this bill in 2012.

The Humane Enforcement and Legal Protection (HELP) for Separated Children Act of 2019 – Background

There are currently over five million children in the U.S. living with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent.  The vast majority of these children are U.S. citizens.  When parents facing detention are not given the opportunity to make arrangements for the care of their children, this not only results in serious, avoidable trauma to children and families, but also unnecessary expenses for the state.  Children of detained parents have been needlessly taken into the custody of state or local child welfare agencies.  In the most extreme cases, because of their parents’ inability to participate in family court hearings, these children have been adopted or placed into foster care with well-meaning American families.  Even when the outcome is not termination of parental rights, enforcement can lead to de facto permanent separation of children from their parents and cause tremendous harm to children, undermining their sense of security and even inflicting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The HELP Separated Children Act of 2019’s protections for these children include: 
• Allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensuring that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained;
• Allowing parents to participate in family court proceedings affecting their children;
• Protecting children from being compelled to serve as translators for their parents in immigration enforcement actions;
• Ensuring that parents can coordinate their departures with their children, including allowing parents to communicate with their children prior to being taken into custody; and
• Requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard first introduced this bill in 2014.  During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 2013 markup of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the previous version of the HELP Separated Children Act was the only amendment – out of nearly 200 amendments – to pass by a unanimous roll call vote.  While that legislation passed the Senate, the Republican-led House did not take up the bill before the end of that Congress.

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