Thousands Put in Foster Care While Parents Are Deported

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Thousands of U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are currently living in foster care while their parents are detained or deported, according to a report released today, and many parents are not being given the chance to take children with them even though they have that right.

“Our research found time and again that families are being left out of decision-making when it comes to the care and custody of their children,” said Seth Wessler, who authored the report by the Applied Research Center (ARC). “As a result, children...are likely to remain in foster care when they could be with their own family,”

In the first six months of 2011, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S.-citizen children,” according to federal data acquired by ARC through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for its report, “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System.”

The majority of their children are left in the care of relatives, but currently an estimated 5,100  are in foster care. ARC projects that if deportations continue at the current rate, an additional 15,000 such children will enter foster care.

ARC also visited six detention centers and interviewed almost 70 parents for the report. Nineteen had children in foster care, and many more said they feared that their children “might enter

foster care because the child welfare system might decide that their children are not safe with their current caregiver or that the caregiver is too poor to support them,” the report says.

“Shattered Families” criticizes what authors see as aggressive immigration enforcement and the lack of consistent child welfare planning on the federal, state and county level to aid in the reunification of families when one or both of the parents are detained or has been deported.

The lack of policy leaves immigration enforcement, child protective services and the courts operating nearly independently of one another and often with conflicting policies, the report says.

The Bureau of Immigration Appeals says: “When an alien-parent’s child is a U.S. citizen and the child is below the age of discretion, and if the alien parent is deported, it is the parent’s decision whether to take the minor child along or to leave the child in this country.”

That may not the reality on the ground. According to the report, when a parent is detained to await deportation and family cannot be located to take in a child, child protective services is called to remove any children and place them in foster care while parents are locked up.

Detainees are then sent an average of 370 miles away from their homes and often times cannot be located by their case workers, the report says.

“ICE has categorically refused to transport people to their hearings,” said Seth Wessler, author and principle investigator of the report. Even when detainees are held in the same jurisdiction as their dependency hearings, ICE will not transport them, according to a San Diego attorney quoted in the report. As a result, the child is kept in foster care.

According to Wessler, deported parents are also faced with reunification plans even with no past allegations of maltreatment or abuse. Those plans are often impossible to adhere to because of their detainment and illegal status, which prevents them from accessing many public programs.

With parents unable to carry out the terms of the reunification plan, the report says, the child remains in the system. Once a child has been in care for 15 of the most recent 22 months CPS petitions the court for the termination of parental rights. If granted, the child becomes eligible for adoption.

ARC found that “children reunited with their deported parents only if foreign consulates are involved with a case.” However, few agencies systematically contact foreign consulates.

ARC gathered county-level survey date from caseworkers and judges in 19 jurisdictions in six key states – Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Texas – and then projected the prevalence of detained/deported parent cases in remaining major jurisdictions in these states and 14 similarly situated states.

These 20 states account for almost 85 percent of the country’s undocumented population and more than 70 percent of the children in foster care. The jurisdictions were chosen based on geographical location (border or non-border) and foreign born populations.

Of the jurisdictions analyzed, Los Angeles had the highest number of children in foster care with a detained or deported parent (1,178). Rio Grande, Texas, had the highest percentage  of children sent to foster care following a deportation (7.8 percent).

Click here to read “Shattered Families.”