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California Pols Move to Keep Immigrant Families Unified During Deportation

Posted: Apr 25, 2012

 A California state legislative committee voted unanimously last week in support of a bill that will strengthen the rights of parents arrested by local police and those held for additional time because of their immigration status. The new rules are designed to combat a problem uncovered by Colorlines.com, in which parents stuck in detention are unable to remain engaged with their children in foster care.

If passed, AB 2015 would require that officers inform parents of their right to make up to three phone calls after arrest. While existing law provides for parents to make three calls, it does not require local cops to inform those booked of that right. Additionally, the law allows parents to make additional calls from jail at the time of release, transfer or because they are “held for immigration reasons.”

California Assemblymember Holly Mitchell introduced AB 2015 in February to respond to the findings of Colorlines.com’s “Shattered Families” investigation. The investigation estimated that there are at least 5,100 children currently in foster care with parents who have been detained or deported by immigration authorities.

When arrested and detained parents are denied additional phone calls to family, friends or the child welfare department, the likelihood grows that children will end up stuck in the child welfare system rather than in the care of relatives or community members. Once the child welfare department gets involved in a case the barriers to family reunification begin to grow.

Immigration enforcement is increasingly conducted within local jails. Secure Communities is a federal detention program that checks the immigration status of everyone booked into a county or state jail. It is operational in the majority of counties around the country. If a Secure Communities check finds that someone is a noncitizen, the federal government can request the local jail continue to hold that person—even if they’ve been charged with no crime—so that immigration authorities can detain them. For parents, this means that an arrest that might have lasted only a few hours or days and therefore caused only short family separation can become an extended and potentially permanent ordeal.

Many of the children Colorlines.com found in foster care with detained and deported parents were separated from parents when local jails and federal immigration authorities collaborated. In some cases, parents were moved to distant detention centers without the ability to make calls to their kids or to the child welfare caseworker in charge of the case. Read more here.

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