Children of undocumented immigrant parents who are facing deportation have begun becoming a bigger topic of the political debate, not only on a national level, but here in the state as well. That’s because currently, if a child does not have relatives who can care for them, they end up in the foster care system.
“The preference is for children to be placed with relative caregivers whenever possible. Children tend to do better in relative placements, so long as the relative is a suitable caregiver,” said Edwin Colon, the Staff Attorney at the Center for Children’s Advocacy. However, for some families that is not an option. The question then becomes what is best for those children who have no one in the country to care for them.
Not only, advocates say, this is not what is best for the child, it also becomes an added expense for the state. Statistics about the exact costs to each state are not available because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that handles these cases, does not release statistics on this matter.
According to an NPR report however, 5,000 children are thought to have been left without a parent or guardian in the United States after their parents have been deported.
For those parents who are deported, hearings and child custody proceedings can be difficult for three main reasons. First, the parents are not allowed to be physically present at the case. Second, most social workers are unable to travel to the border, so updates on the parents’ children are infrequent. Finally, in most child custody cases, each parent has a lawyer present, but in these cases neither parent usually does.
The parents will usually get a written report after court hearings and be contacted either by phone or webcam with other updates. While this can be helpful, it is still not the same as being physically present to present their case.
Yet another hurdle immigrant parents have to face when trying to get their children back is the bureaucracy of two countries’ governments. For example, if the parents are from Mexico, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) is involved, which is the equivalent to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the United States.
Once DIF signs off on the parents being suitable to get their children back, then the case is transferred to CPS in the United States. In this country, the parents have to deal with more social workers, lawyers and judges.
The Center for Children’s Advocacy in Connecticut is working on a bill to address the problem. It calls for immigrant children under the age of 18 to be allowed to file for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). “SIJS is a special form of immigration protection for children who are dependent on the court and who have been abandoned, abused or neglected,” said Colon.
Colon says the situation is complex because the states have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunite children of immigrants with their parents, yet states do not play a role in setting immigration laws, policies, and procedures.
Robert Held CTLatinoNews.com