Children's Voice September/October 2008

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Helping Immigrant Families in Federal Custody

In the July/August 2007 issue of Children's Voice, an interview with Julianne Duncan, Associate Director for Children's Services, Office of Refugee Programs, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services, on families facing federal immigration authorities was published. We asked Duncan for an update on what's happened in the past year.

What new regulations exist regarding the treatment of children and families at the detention centers?
Because of public outcry about the poor conditions at the Texas Hutto facility, the Department of Homeland Security has issued Family Residential Standards to set the minimum, which such a facility should comply with. Since there is no other realm in which the United States locks up families, there is no body of standards that would otherwise apply to these facilities and the state governments involved did not have licensing procedures in place to use for this purpose.

The Family Residential Standards, for those detained at the two family facilities located at Hutto, Texas, or Berks County, Pennsylvania, can be found at Unfortunately, these are standards and not regulations, which means they are only enforced if DHS chooses to enforce them. Also see for more information about the detention of immigrant families.

Are there other regulations and policies that affect children during immigration enforcement actions?
During 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) developed three policy memoranda that consider the needs of children in immigration enforcement activities.
  1. ICE officials must develop comprehensive plans to quickly identify the sole caregivers of children prior to conducting workplace raids that result in the arrest of more than 150 people. The guidelines also stipulate that ICE should facilitate communication between detainees and their family members by providing detainees with access to a telephone and staffing a toll-free hotline so that relatives seeking information about the location of a family member will have reliable, up-to-date information. The hotline number for finding family members does not seem to be widely available so far. As an alternative to the hotline number, we recommend contacting the nearest detention center. To find the center and contact information, the Detention Watch Network website is helpful. It gives detention center information and provides contact information for possible legal assistance.

  2. Nursing mothers should be released and alternative enforcement tools should be used, such as an electronic monitoring device. When ICE determines that the nursing mother should be kept in custody, the field personnel should consider placement at Berks or Hutto family detention facilities. In general, the practice in recent raids has been to release sole caregivers of small children on electronic monitoring devices. If both parents are arrested in a raid and have minor children, ICE has recently been releasing one of the caregivers on an electronic monitoring device.

  3. ICE should not take into custody a legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen minor child. ICE should coordinate the transfer of the minor to the nearest child welfare authority or local law enforcement. When ICE is unable to transfer the child to these government entities, the agency should document the parent's request that the child be transferred to the care of a third party. In practice, this separates families and sometimes places children in out-of-home care.
Unfortunately, these policy guidelines have not been codified and are not regulations, thus are nonbinding for ICE officials. Actual practice varies in different locations in the country although ICE does make an effort to follow these guidelines.

Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. child population--roughly one in five children in the U.S. is an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. In 2007, California had 10 million of the nation's 38 million immigrants. About half of the children in California are children of immigrants. In the 1990s, especially rapid immigrant growth occurred in many of the Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and Southeastern states. The integration issues that California has faced for decades are now confronting these new high-growth states.

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