The Foster Children Opportunity Act, H.R. 3333, which was introduced on November 3rd, 2011, would protect abused and neglected immigrant children in foster care and ensure they are given ample opportunity to gain legal status before they leave care. Under current immigration law, many immigrant foster children are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and other types of immigration relief. However, once young people "age out" of the foster care system they lose eligibility and risk deportation, sometimes back to the country where their abuser lives. The proposed bill would:
- Require the child welfare system to screen children for SIJS eligibility;
- Allocate financial resources for education and training of judges and other court personnel on immigration issues facing foster youth;
- Require child welfare agencies and judges to document their efforts to help children obtain SIJS;
- Require the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security to give technical assistance to state and county child welfare agencies regarding immigration; and
- Ensure that children with SIJS status in foster care have access to federal programs such as foster care maintenance payments, student loans, housing assistance and Medicaid, just like other children in foster care.
This bill was introduced the day after a report on a year-long investigation by Applied Research Center was released that discussed the reality of immigrant parents and children in the child welfare system; for a brief overview, see this article by Colorlines.com. This report highlighted how immigration enforcement practices break up families and exclude parents from decisions about the custody of their children. Some notable facts from this report are:
- About 5,100 children are in foster care this year due to parental detainment or deportation.
- An estimated 15,000 children may remain in care for the next 5 years, unable to reunite with their parents.
- Approximately 1 in 4 deported individuals have children who are U.S. citizens.
- Approximately 70 jurisdictions nationwide have signed agreements with the federal government so their local police officers can act as immigration agents.
- Children in foster care in these jurisdictions are 29% more likely to have parents who were detained or deported than in other jurisdictions.
- On average, detained parents are transferred about 370 miles from their homes.
- After deportation, child welfare agencies generally move to a termination of parental rights and subsequent adoption by families that are oftentimes unknown to the child.
The federal government established guidelines for the placement of children in foster care and adoptive homes. Particularly relevant to this issue is the guide to Multiethnic Placement Act, established in 1994 and later amended to the Interethnic Adoption Provisions of 1996. These guidelines review the eight recruitment factors for foster and adoptive parents including recruitment to reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in the state. The guidelines also address the need to work on reunification efforts.
Given the timing of this bill, how do you think this bill will impact the plight of these children in foster care? Do you feel the proposed bill will effectively address the issues highlighted in the report, such as the increasing rate of termination of parental rights of children who have deported parents? What could policy do to assist in the reunification of parents and children who face deportation?