The American Humane Association, a national leader in child welfare policy and research, contributed its expertise in immigration and child welfare issues to the development of the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) Separated Children Act, introduced in Congress June 22 by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). American Humane endorses the legislation, which focuses on protecting children impacted by immigration enforcement actions and detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
American Humane supported the crafting of this significant legislation by providing knowledge and language on the specific issues that make children of immigrant families vulnerable in these circumstances. “In the course of immigration raids, children can become the unintended and innocent victims of inhumane law enforcement,” said Sonia Velazquez, American Humane vice president of child welfare and co-founder (in 2006) of the Migration and Child Welfare National Network. “The national policies the U.S. government enacts or enforces must commit to the safety of all vulnerable children.”
The HELP Separated Children Act is supported by more than 150 organizations across the country and is informed by the experiences of child welfare agencies over the past few years. It requires that apprehended parents, legal guardians and primary caregivers who cannot be released remain in the area in which they were apprehended until care arrangements have been made for their children. It also promotes family reunification at the time the immigration case for the parent or caregiver concludes by ensuring that detained parents can communicate with their children, the child welfare system and family courts. As part of enforcement actions, it directs the Department of Homeland Security to better coordinate its efforts with the local child welfare system, the schools and those who can protect the children whose parents are in detention.
“Without legislation of this kind, the law enforcement actions ignore the tremendous impact on children and are not mandated to shield them,” Velazquez said. “Beyond the immediate safety issue, children suffer trauma and their mental health is impacted when they have to go into hiding, suffer stigma, or lose connection with all the people they know. We are aware that time is limited for action on the HELP Separated Children Act this year, but Congress must ensure that any policy moving forward will safeguard the well-being of children, regardless of their parents’ legal status.”
American Humane believes that steps to keep parents connected with their children during and after immigration enforcement must be supported by all, regardless of where anyone stands in the immigration debate. The consequences of family separation include loss of identity, extended family connections, and increasing the vulnerability of children as possible prey of trafficking and exploitation.
The work of American Humane and its partners on immigration and child welfare spans issues of research, policy, emerging practices and transnational collaboration. For more information, visit www.americanhumane.org/migration.
About American Humane Association
Since 1877, the historic American Humane Association has been at the forefront of every major advancement in protecting children, pets and farm animals from cruelty and abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding human-animal interaction and its role in society. As the nation’s voice for the protection of children and animals, American Humane Association reaches millions of people every day through groundbreaking research, education, training and services that span a wide network of organizations, agencies and businesses. You can help make a difference, too. Visit American Humane Association at www.americanhumane.org today.