With contributions from Willemijn Keizer.
Family preparedness for immigrant families includes gathering necessary documentation, appointing a caregiver or guardian for your children, and deciding where you would like your children to live in case of your deportation. These decisions are heartbreakingly difficult for families. While necessary, they must be distressing for parents, guardians, and children.
Undocumented parents should make plans for their children in case they are detained for any length of time or are deported. Family preparedness matters because if an undocumented person wants someone they trust to take care of their children, that person will need permission to do so and to make decisions while the parent(s) is caught in immigration enforcement proceedings. Parents should select caregivers who can pick children up right after they are taken into custody. If after attempting to find a family member to take custody of the children, there is not one to pick them up right away, the Department of Family and Children’s Services may take the children and file a case against an undocumented parent. This is why it is important to make a plan in advance.
For the community, a misplaced child means a hungry child, a stressed child, a child unable to perform in school. The broader community is served when children have stable homes with consistent parenting and their basic emotional and physical needs met. Detention and deportation of parents removes stability for children, ultimately harming them in significant ways.
According to the most recent data available, 4.1 million US citizen children under 18 live with at least one undocumented parent and 5.9 million live with an undocumented family member. Roughly half a million US citizen children experienced the apprehension, detention, and deportation of at least one parent between 2011 and 2013.
If a parent isn’t able to arrange childcare or custody prior to detention or deportation, the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) may obtain custody of children and they could be placed in a shelter, group home, or foster care. In 2011, an estimated 5,000 US citizen children in foster care have a detained or deported parent. With a parental plan in place, many of these children could be placed with family or friends instead of foster care.
While parents are detained and their cases heard by an immigration judge, children can experience financial problems, lose access to housing and regular meals, and suffer from severe psychological stress.
All parents have the right to receive a notification of custody proceedings affecting their children, to attend such proceedings, and to receive copies of related court documents. yet there are few enforceable, permanent policies in place to protect these rights. Federal law mandates that parental rights be terminated if a child has been out of a parent’s custody for 15 of the past 22 months. Policies and procedures vary by state, but in order to maintain or regain parental rights, CPS generally implements a reunification plan that requires a parent to have regular contact with the child and participate in family court hearings. Detained or deported parents have historically faced significant barriers to these requirements.
In 2013, ICE issued its Parental Interests Directive to prevent and mitigate the impact of immigration enforcement on parental rights. Broadly, the guidance aims to better facilitate parent-child visitation and parental participation in custody proceedings and to ensure the role of a parent is recognized in case reviews and initial detention, transfer, or prosecutorial discretion decisions. In 2015, the Children’s Bureau within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an information memo encouraging child welfare agencies and case workers to review ICE’s directive and work with ICE to ensure family services “focus on safety, permanency, and well-being” regardless of immigration status.
Despite these directives, significant issues persist. Because ICE is not required to inform CPS of a parent’s whereabouts, CPS may still have difficulty locating and properly notifying a detained parent; family courts and caseworkers may not understand why a parent is detained and unable to participate in proceedings; and ICE officials may underestimate the impact that enforcement has on US citizen children who are likely to be left behind.
Finally, funders can stay informed by outreach to organizations working on these issues. Philanthropy can play a crucial role through raising awareness in local communities and among funder networks about the multifaceted nature of problems facing immigrant families that stem from detainment, including loss of income and resulting housing and food instability, intervention by CPS, and undue stress on children. In addition to raising awareness, philanthropists have an opportunity to partner with local, grassroots nonprofits to help families navigate government systems, to provide basic needs, and to support know-your-rights trainings.