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  • Women’s Refugee Commission Welcomes Reintroduction of Act to Protect Children of Immigrants

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    New Legislation Would HELP Keep Families Together

    Washington, D.C.—The Women’s Refugee Commission applauds Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA) for reintroducing the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act (S. 1399/H.R. 2607). This legislation—originally introduced during the last Congress—would reduce the number of children who are needlessly separated from their parents as a result of immigration enforcement measures.

    As immigration enforcement increases, more and more children, including those who are U.S. citizens, are suffering long-term consequences. Despite a recent policy memorandum that requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to exercise discretion in pursuing cases against parents of U.S. citizen children and other vulnerable populations, large numbers of parents are still detained and deported.

    “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.”

    There are currently no consistent guidelines to ensure that detained parents can make childcare arrangements, maintain a relationship with their children or take their children with them back to their home country. As a result, children are often left in unsafe situations, and family relationships can be permanently harmed.

    Since 1997, the Women's Refugee Commission has worked to protect the rights of women, children and families seeking asylum in the United States, including those who face detention and deportation. In 2007, while monitoring the conditions under which immigrant women were detained, the Commission interviewed detained mothers who said that they could not find their children. Permanent separation from their children, and even termination of their parental rights, was a real risk for many of these women.

    “Often, family separations occur because parents suspected of having immigration violations are not provided a simple phone call at the time of apprehension so that they can make care-giving arrangements for their children,” said Emily Butera, Senior Program Officer of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Detention and Asylum Program. “A lack of protections means that immigration enforcement can result in children being unnecessarily placed into the foster care system, even though there are more family-friendly options.”

    For the last three years, the Women's Refugee Commission has advocated with the Department of Homeland Security to reduce family separations and to ensure that immigrant parents and their children enjoy the same rights and protections afforded to any family living in the U.S. Some advances have been made, most notably the development of a detainee locator system that makes it easier for children and their caregivers to locate detained parents. Still, progress has not been sufficient and Congressional action is necessary to guarantee that the best interest of children is considered in all decisions to detain their parents and other caregivers.

    “The parents I’ve met in detention centers around the country often accept the fact that they will be deported,” said Butera. “But they are desperate to know the whereabouts of their children and many wish to take their children with them when they leave.”

    The HELP Separated Children Act would keep families together by ensuring that detained parents can meaningfully participate in family court proceedings, meet reunification requirements established by the child welfare system and obtain passports and other travel documents for their children.

    “This legislation represents a crucial step forward in ensuring that immigration enforcement policies do not undermine family unity and a parent’s right to make decisions in the best interest of her or his children,” said Butera.

    Media Contact: Nicole Rajani, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 212.551.3088

    Read more about this legislation.