Washington, D.C. – In an effort to keep kids safe and accounted for during federal immigration raids, a group of U.S. Senators reintroduced a measure today to ensure that children are not inadvertently abandoned after their parents are detained by U.S. immigration officials, and to allow those parents to communicate with their children, arrange for care, and participate in family court hearings.
The bill, the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) Separated Children Act, was re-introduced Thursday by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“We can’t leave young children to fend for themselves – sometimes for long periods of time – if their parents are caught up and detained by our immigration officials, ” said Sen. Franken. “This legislation would ensure that we don’t see any more cases like the second-grader in Worthington who had to take care of his two-year-old brother for a week after his parents were detained by immigration authorities.”
“Too often, our immigration laws rip families apart without regard for the welfare of children,” said Sen. Durbin. “It is time for our nation’s laws to match our values, and the HELP for Separated Children Act will move us closer to that goal. I applaud Senator Franken for his leadership on this important issue.”
“No child should live in fear of abandonment or unnecessary separation from their parents,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “It is critical that we safeguard the well-being of children when their mothers and fathers are detained. This legislation puts the interests of children first and helps protect them from undue harm.”
Specifically, the HELP Separated Children Act:
• Keeps state and local authorities in the know. It’s state schools and child welfare agencies that address the aftermath of immigration enforcement actions. This bill makes sure that state authorities are informed of enforcement actions.
• Effectively identifies at-risk kids. Detainees are afraid to tell ICE that they have kids at home. This bill allows child welfare agencies and local NGOs to screen detainees to identify parents and locate at-risk children.
• Allows parents to arrange for care of their children. No matter where they are, parents must be allowed regular communication and visits with their children. They should not be transferred unless they know how to contact their kids – and what will happen to them.
• Protects kids during interrogations. Kids should not be forced to witness their parents’ interrogations or translate for ICE agents. This bill makes sure that doesn’t happen.
• Allows parents to participate in family court proceedings – and alert authorities to abuse. This bill requires authorities to help detained parents participate in family court proceedings affecting their children. It also gives parents free calls to report child abuse.
Sen. Franken was inspired to introduce the legislation by a 2006 incident in which a second-grader in Worthington, MN returned from school to find his parents gone and his two-year-old brother home alone. His parents had been detained during an ICE raid and were unable to contact the two boys. He cared for his brother for a week before his grandmother arrived to care for the children. The bill was originally introduced last year.
Nationally, the HELP Separated Children Act has garnered wide support, including endorsements from the First Focus Campaign for Children, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Refugee Commission. A full list of supporting organizations is available here: <http://franken.senate.gov/files/letter/110721_HELP_Separated%20Children_Act_2011_Endorsements.pdf>.