California Passes Groundbreaking Legislation to Prevent “Shattered Families”

By Yali Lincroft, Policy Consultant, First Focus Campaign for Children

Late last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills – AB2015  and SB1064  – which address the nightmare scenarios that can befall parents and their children caught up in the immigration system. The recent report Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigrant Enforcement and the Child Welfare System describes the issue in detail including the “extent to which children in foster care are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents and the failures of the child welfare system to adequately work to reunify these families.”

Here’s the scenario: a parent is arrested by local enforcement perhaps for driving without a license and is identified as being undocumented.  She or he is quickly taken to an immigration detention center miles away, often with no opportunity to make a phone call to arrange temporary or permanent child care. And if the replacement parent or relatives are themselves undocumented or can’t be quickly located, it is surprisingly easy for a detained parent to lose his or her child for months, years, or even a lifetime.  Parents in detention too often face impossible odds trying to maintain contact with their children in foster care or meet the requirements set by child welfare agencies under strict federal timelines.  If they don’t meet these terms, their parental rights can be terminated.  This is the scenario being played out in a Missouri case involving an undocumented mother who lost her parental rights, in a  North Carolina case involving a deported father who was unable to visit his three children in foster care for over two years, and in a Washington State appeals case involving the reluctance of courts to place a child with his paternal grandparents based solely on the court’s unfounded concerns about the grandparents’ immigration status.

With passage of – AB2015 and SB1064 – California has taken the lead in addressing these ongoing concerns.

 

  • AB2015 (Calls for Kids) ensures that parents apprehended by law enforcement agencies can make calls to arrange for child care. The bill is based on existing California law (Penal Code 851.5) which states that an arrested person has the right to make two telephone calls to arrange for the care of their children but many times these rights are ignored or not properly explained. Specially, the bill requires law enforcement officers ask whether an arrestee is a parent, and if so, inform them of their right to make two phone calls (in their primary language).
  • SB1064 (Reuniting Immigrant Families) authorizes juvenile court judges to provide detained or deported parents additional time to reunify with their children.  The bill also affirms that immigration status per se is not a disqualifying factor in evaluating placement of a child with a relative (including their own parent) and authorizes the use of a relative’s foreign consulate identification card or passport to be used to initiate fingerprint clearance so that a relative can be a placement option for children.   Finally, the bill provides guidance to social workers on immigration relief options for children in the foster care system, including Special Immigration Juvenile Status, and also requires the California Department of Social Services to provide guidance to counties and municipalities to establish Memorandums of Understandings with appropriate foreign consulates in child custody cases.

These measures will protect children from being needlessly taken from their parents. Other states would be wise to follow California’s lead in protecting the rights of immigrant parents and their children.

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