ICE Detentions & Permanent Family Separation by Nicole Simonson, LICSW
On August 7, 2019, ICE officials raided several food plants in Mississippi in the largest single raid of its kind in U.S. history. Many of the individuals detained were parent(s) and some will never be reunited with their children.
What happens to children when parent(s) are no longer at home to care for them?
There are many complicated possibilities for where a child will end up if his or her parent(s) are detained. The best case scenario is when a legal parent is at home to provide care. The next best is when the parent has planned ahead and obtained legal custody arrangement for a guardian to step in if detention or deportation occurs. When there is no custody plan and both parents, or a single parent, are detained, a difficult battle begins when the parents or single parent attempt reunification with their child or children.
Without a legal custody arrangement for a guardian, children are placed in our child welfare system. The welfare system is required to search for “kinship” options and for a very short time they attempt to place a child with a friend or relative. This particularly happens when there is no legal custody arrangement. Without this protection, a child may well be placed in one of these three places:
1) an emergency shelter for children,
2) a group home for citizen children, or
3) a foster home.
If the welfare system finds a friend or family member to be a foster parent, the approval of this placement can take months. Children with no legal guardian may remain in one of the placements described above for a long time.
Once a child is placed in the child welfare system, parents have great difficulty making contact and reuniting with them. Parents must learn how to contact their state’s child welfare offices and search for their child. If a parent makes no contact, it is assumed that the parent does not want reunification (even if that is false) and a new permanent home is sought for the child(ren). The law allows 6-12 months for this process to unfold. After that, the parent’s risk of losing parental rights greatly increases and adoption into another family is possible.
The Women’s Refugee Commission put together a toolkit (available in both English and Spanish) to help immigrant parent(s) plan ahead and increase their chances of family reunification. Consider sharing this toolkit within your community and ask your legislators for a better solution to this problem…because all families belong together.