On October 27, 2021, The American Bar Association (ABA) and Women’s Refugee Commission conducted a briefing on The Impact of Increased Immigrant Enforcement on Child Welfare. As of 2016, out of the 70 million children under the age of 18 in the U.S. more than 18 million reside with at least one immigrant parent. The recent years of policies and practices involving family separation, deportation, and detainment deeply impact the lives of families residing in a mixed household status. The presentation noted that as a result of these enforcement policies, many children living in these conditions, families, children, and communities often live in fear of law enforcement. For children, this fear can project into relations with friends, neighbors, and classmates.

A 2015 report by Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute found that immigration enforcement impacts child and family well-being and can result in family economic hardship; psychological trauma to children; difficulty accessing social services because of language barriers, difficulty documenting eligibility, mistrust, and fear; and family separation, child welfare involvement, potential termination of parental rights. Children and youth impacted by recent immigration policies include unaccompanied minors. An unaccompanied minor is a child who has no lawful immigration status in the U.S.; not attained 18 years of age; there is no parent or legal guardian in the U.S.; or no parent or legal guardian in the U.S is available to provide care and physical custody. In FY18, over 41,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at Southwest border.

While immigration policy harshly affects our borders and the individuals looking for opportunity in the U.S., the most prominent issue among child welfare policies are those that directly affect family separation. The executive orders of 2017 made all undocumented individuals a priority under law enforcement. Under this order, deportations and detainments increased as a rapid rate. Consequently, more parents that are undocumented are being separated from their children.

In cases of family separation, each state has varying policies on providing kinship care and how to obtain foster care eligibility and licensure for placing a child with a family member. Twenty states have explicit standards in foster care licensure as it pertains to citizenship and immigration status. Of these 20 states, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have explicit exemptions that allow undocumented immigrants to receive full licensure and provide kinship care. Colorado, Hawaii, and North Carolina have general waivers and alternative approval processes to aid in relative kinship care. Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri are all states with non-exception policies that requires legal documentation of citizenship for foster care licensure further perpetuating barriers to kinship care placement. 

Title IV-E does not preclude placements with (or seeking other assistance from) relatives who are undocumented or living outside the U.S. – Undocumented adults providing placement may receive IV-E foster care maintenance payments as long as the child is IV-E eligible. No part of Title IV-E prohibits reunification with parents who are undocumented or who live outside the U.S.

The briefing included numerous potential resources and approaches that some state and local programs are using. A power point here includes some useful information for child advocates and child welfare agencies. For more information on how to aid immigrant families, and useful references here.