On Thursday, July 25, 2019 CWLA President & CEO Chris James-Brown issued a position statement regarding family separation and national immigration policy.

“We are urging Congress and the President to strengthen protections for these families and, where protections don’t exit, to create them in an appropriate way that keeps families together. CWLA also urges great caution in relying on local child welfare courts to make determinations on separating families. Decisions related to the termination of the rights of the parent or legal guardians or to separate these children from their parents or guardians are complex and although they can rely on the goals of domestic child welfare policy and practice they require additional guidelines, training and accountability for the people making the decisions.”

There are a number of bills under consideration in both the House and Senate and several include provisions that CWLA supports such as provisions that would enhance family protections including: directing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to respect and meet certain minimum standards of care; ensure access to medical care, breathing space, and sunlight; directing authorities to establish facility requirements, and the prohibition of family separation. Another bill under consideration would establish an independent Ombudsman for Border and Immigration Related Concerns within the Department of Homeland Security, create a 12-member advisory committee of border community stakeholders to advise the Secretary of Homeland Security; require training for Border Patrol agents and other officers; institute unannounced inspections of detention facilities and new requirements in the reporting of migrant deaths.

One area of concern however is found in bills in both houses that would prohibit the separation of a child from his or her family at the border (defined as within 100 miles of the US border) unless a state court, authorized under child welfare law, terminates the rights of the parent or legal guardian, and determines that it is in the best interests of the child to be removed from the parent or legal guardian, in accordance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-89).

As a result the policy statement issued by CWLA emphasizes: “ Decisions related to the termination of the rights of the parent or legal guardians, or to separating these children from their parents or guardians, are complex, and although they can rely on the goals of domestic child welfare policy and practice, they require additional guidelines, training, and accountability for the people making the decisions.”

CWLA recently endorsed the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act (H.R. 3451) and the Help Separated Families Act (H.R. 3452) both bills that would enhance protection for families with the second bill making needed improvements in child welfare practices when a case involves a migrant family. The House has left through August with the Senate scheduled to depart this week. That likely means the only actions regarding immigration policies in the next month will be the result of presidential actions and the court reactions to those policies.

Due to the fact that CWLA has a wide and diverse membership, we are also taking this opportunity to provide a request and resource from our colleagues at the American Bar Association.

The Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA), an ABA program, has a website: Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation that allows lawyers to search for available pro bono cases representing a different population – children who cross the border unaccompanied. Most cases require foreign language ability from the attorney.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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