July 18, 2013 STATEMENT–LIRS Welcomes Two Bills from Rep. Roybal-Allard Protecting Children and Families Separated by Immigration Enforcement

LIRS Welcomes the Help Separated Families Act and the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
(202) 591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) re-introduction of two significant pieces of legislation to protect immigrant children and families.

The Help Separated Families Act (H.R. 2604) provides important protections to children and families impacted by immigration enforcement actions and the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 2624) improves safety and screening protocols for unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border. Versions of both bills were introduced in the 112th Congress and similar proposals were included in S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that passed the U.S. Senate on June 27, 2013.

As one of only two organizations that provide specialized foster care and family reunification services to unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, LIRS knows how vital it is to ensure that children separated from their parents are reunited with safe and appropriate caregivers regardless of immigration status, with a preference for family unity wherever possible. Since 1998, more than 600,000 American-born children have seen one or more parents deported. Reports from the Applied Research Center indicate more than 5,000 children remain in foster care in the United States as a result of separation from parents who have been detained or deported.

Children who travel to the United States alone are particularly vulnerable. Many embark on a dangerous journey from their home countries to escape persecution or other violence, or to reunite with family already in the United States.  They often endure trafficking or abuse during their journey. While awaiting family reunification or safe return to their home country and navigating our immigration system, these children typically remain in federal government custody between 15 to 45 days.

“The United States government should be working to protect all children and keep families together,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “LIRS and our broad network of social ministry organizations, churches and church leaders remain committed to working with Congress and the administration to ensure U.S. immigration policies uphold family unity and our country’s fundamental values.”

The Help Separated Families Act (H.R. 2604) would:

  • Ensure that immigration status alone will not disqualify a prospective foster parent and that the immigration status of relatives seeking to reunite with a child is not unduly questioned.
  • Require states to accept foreign passports or consulate documents to conduct background checks for caregivers.
  • Prohibit the termination of parental rights of parents who have been removed from the United States unless it is not in the child’s best interests to be in that parent’s custody.
  • Requires the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS) and State to consult with experts to develop guidance that takes into account the best interests of children whose parent or caregiver is detained, deported or removed. This would facilitate coordination with federal, state and local agencies including foreign consulates, family court, and child welfare agencies.
  • Ensures that care managers speak the child’s language and that DHS make efforts to assist parents in removal proceedings who want their children to accompany them to their country of origin.

The Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R 2624) would:

  • Ensure that unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings are transferred from DHS custody to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, except in exceptional circumstances, so that children are in appropriate settings as quickly as possible.
  • Require that HHS provide child welfare professionals with expertise in culturally competent, trauma-centered, and developmentally appropriate interviewing skills at locations where unaccompanied children enter the United States.
  • Mandate that adult relatives who arrive with unaccompanied children are interviewed and screened for human trafficking concerns.
  • Ensure that children in DHS custody receive medical care, nutrition, hygiene, recreation, and access to legal services, consular officials, and supervised communication with family.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States. For more information, please visit www.lirs.org.

Additional LIRS Resources

  • Overview of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act’s positive and negative changes to family-based immigration: http://bit.ly/1aKvboe
  • LIRS statement in response to the July 27, 2013 Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform: http://bit.ly/17nI44M
  • July 20, 2012 LIRS Letter of Support for Rep. Roybal-Allard’s Help Separated Families Act: http://bit.ly/13QHteV
  • Frequently Asked Questions resource on Family-Based Immigration www.bit.ly/11Jqt2Z

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at bnystrom@lirs.org.