August 01, 2014

ABA Project Helping Immigrant Children and Families

Sally Inada

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Children separated from their parents as a result of immigration enforcement have increasingly entered state child welfare systems. Parents who are held in detention for long periods or deported to their countries of origin face considerable challenges to reuniting with their children, and those children also risk losing ties to relatives in the U.S. when in foster care.

ABA Center on Children and the Law attorneys Cristina Ritchie Cooper, Scott Trowbridge and consultant Ann Park are developing checklists for state courts, attorneys, and child welfare agencies working with immigrant children and parents in the child welfare system. These checklists for dependency practitioners in 12 states with high populations of immigrant families—including Texas, New York, and Florida—identify federal and state child welfare resources and immigration relief options and are designed to help practitioners protect their clients’ rights and support children’s best interests.

California is the first state to enact legislation explicitly promoting family reunification for detained or deported parents. (Similar legislation is under debate in other states, many modeled on the California bill.) The Center is assessing the impact of the 2012 law on dependency courts, and has partnered with other organizations to create tools for its effective implementation.

Unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America are flooding federal border detention sites; the Washington Post reports almost 50,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have been detained since October 2013. These minors, generally, are released to relatives in the U.S. or placed through programs funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement as their requests for immigration relief are processed. The Center is reaching out to other organizations and ABA entities that specialize in the issue of unaccompanied minors to offer any useful connections to the child welfare system and explore strategies to promote these children’s safety, stability, and well-being.


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—Sally Inada, CLP Contributor