How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

In California, an attempt to keep some deportees' children out of foster care

Photo by Roger's Wife/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post last month described some of the scenarios that can befall the U.S.-born children of immigrants who land in deportation proceedings, some better than others. Sometimes, deported parents opt to take their children with them when they leave. Other children remain here with relatives.

But when relatives can’t be located, or the parents are shuffled off quickly into the immigrant detention system, sometimes there's nowhere for the kids to go. In these cases, it's surprisingly easy for these immigrants to lose their parental rights. Parents in detention are hard pressed to meet the requirements established by child welfare agencies, such as attending case meetings or court proceedings related to the children, and often fail to meet the strict timelines set. If they don't meet the terms, their parental rights can be terminated.

Last fall, the social justice magazine ColorLines reported that more than 5,000 children were languishing in foster care following the detention or deportation of their immigrant parents. The numbers make sense in light of a new Homeland Security report issued this week that tracks the deportation of parents of U.S.-born children and estimates that between 1998 and 2007, more than 100,000 parents of U.S.- born children were deported. Since that time the annual number of deportations has sharply increased, leading to more family separations.

In California, a state Senate committee has voted in favor of a bill that's intended to help some immigrants in deportation hold onto their children through the process, introduced by Sen. Kevin De Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles. From the text of the bill, known as SB 1064:

Existing law sets forth the procedure for terminating the parental rights of a dependent child, including regular review hearings before a court may order a hearing to terminate parental rights. Under existing law, a court may continue these review hearings if it finds that there is a substantial probability that the child will be returned to the physical custody of his or her parent or legal guardian and safely maintained in the home within the extended period of time or that reasonable services have not been provided to the parent or legal guardian.

This bill would authorize a court to extend the review hearing periods following consideration of the parent's circumstances if a parent has been arrested and issued an immigration hold, detained by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department of Homeland Security, or deported to his or her country of origin, and, under these circumstances would authorize a court to continue the case only if the court finds that the parent has made reasonable efforts to regain custody of the child or that termination of parental rights would be detrimental to the child.


Among other things, the bill would also ensure that a child can be placed with a relative or legal guardian regardless of the relative or guardian's status.

It also directs the state social services department "to provide guidance to counties and municipalities, no later than July 1, 2013,  to establish memoranda of understanding with foreign consulates in child custody cases, including procedures for contacting a consulate, accessing a child's documentation, locating a detained parent, assisting in family reunification after a parent has been deported, aiding the safe transfer of a child to the parent's country of origin, and communicating with relevant departments and services in a parent's country of origin."

The entire amended text of the California bill can be read here. It comes as child custody battles have developed over deportation cases, notably in Missouri, where an undocumented mother from Guatemala has fought to regain custody of her five-year-old son. Encarnacion Bail Romero's son was adopted by a couple after she was detained when he was seven months old, following a 2007 raid at the poultry plant where she worked. While she remained in custody, she lost her parental rights and the legal adoption went through; it was later reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court, which called it a "travesty of justice." The case went back to court last month.

If the California bill were to become law, it would be the first of its kind in the country. More details on this story at KPCC.org.

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