Mixed-legal status families are extremely common in the United States, with nearly 5.5 million children living with at least one undocumented parent. As immigration enforcement becomes stricter, over 400,000 immigrants face deportation, threatening the family unit and forcing parents and children to be separated, according to a recent First Focus report.
When parents are detained or deported, children are often pushed into precarious living situations or the child welfare system, the report says. In cases involving the child welfare system, case managers frequently cannot locate the parents and are permitted to move their cases forward without parental presence.
The report stresses the necessity of due process and the importance of giving parents the opportunity to be involved in dependency hearings that concern their own children, even if they are in immigration custody.
Often, immigration attorneys are not in contact with child welfare workers, leaving parents with very little, if any, information about the well-being of their children while in the care of others.
Information sharing is an essential tool between parents in custody and the child welfare system workers, the study explains. Child welfare employees should be briefed on the deportation system and how to locate parents, while parents should be informed of their rights in custody, such as receiving mail and making phone calls.
The reports states that a lack of transparency exists in the immigration detention system and the actions taken against immigrant parents are often hidden, such as restricting access to legal counsel.
Building bridges between immigration and child welfare systems can protect families from some of the pain caused by separation, the report concludes. Without communication, families risk longer separations and a smaller chance of being reunited in the future.
One possible way to build this connection, according to researchers, is to bring in lawyers who have expertise in both immigration and family law who would be able to represent the parents in both proceedings.
Researchers also believe that immigration and child welfare advocates need to work together to push through legislative policies that promote family unity among unauthorized immigrant families.
First Focus is an advocacy organization that dedicates it work to a plethora of children’s issues, including children’s health, education, juvenile justice and children of immigrants.