On July 13, 2022, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the bicameral Children’s Safe Welcome Act. This bill establishes new standards to ensure that the safety and well-being of migrant children in government custody are prioritized, embedding best practices into every stage of our immigration system involving unaccompanied and accompanied noncitizen children who seek asylum in the U.S.
Specifically, the Children’s Safe Welcome Act will:
- Codify minimum child welfare protections such as health and safety standards, state licensing requirements, and the best interests of the child standard.
- Mandate child protection professionals at children’s first point of contact with the federal immigration system.
- Increase minimum health and safety standards for children and families in Customs and Border Protection facilities.
- Prohibit family separations, with extremely narrow exceptions only in cases where it is critical to protect the safety of the child.
- Prohibit the use of family detention facilities, without exception.
- Ensure all children are placed in a non-adversarial setting for their asylum case processing.
- Create a process for keeping families together by allowing unaccompanied children who arrive at the border in the care of grandparents, adult siblings, or aunts or uncles (non-parent/non-legal guardian family members) to stay together.
- Phase out large congregate care facilities and prioritizes family-based placements for unaccompanied children.
- Require children to be placed in the least restrictive environment and limits the placement of children in harmful restrictive facilities.
- Prioritize the swift release of unaccompanied children with disabilities and access to services in the community.
- Limit the use of influx facilities and prohibits the placement of unaccompanied children in influx facilities for more than 20 days.
- Guarantee legal representation for unaccompanied children at every stage of removal proceedings.
- Prohibit information sharing about unaccompanied children, with narrow exceptions.
- Replace the outdated and offensive word “alien” with “noncitizen” in federal statute.
- Establish an Ombudsperson to monitor and oversee compliance with this Act.
- Mandate access for members of Congress, accompanying staff, and credentialed press (without cameras) to visit federal immigration facilities.
In addition to Senators Merkley, Gillibrand, Durbin, and Representative Bass, the Children’s Safe Welcome Act is cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Bob Casey (D-PA).