Today, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act to keep kids safe, informed, and accounted for during Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.
According to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, 108,434 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the past 10 years.
On December 12, 2006, ICE carried out enforcement actions on Swift & Company meatpacking plants in six states, including a plant in Worthington, Minnesota. The raids left numerous children -- most of them citizens and legal residents -- without their parents and with no way of finding them. One second-grader in Worthington came home that night to find his two-year old brother alone and his mother and father missing. For the next week, the second-grader stayed home to care for his brother while his grandmother traveled to Worthington to meet them.
"Four million U.S. citizen children in our country have at least one undocumented immigrant parent," said Sen. Franken. "Forty-thousand of those children live in Minnesota. They should not have to live in fear that one day their parents will simply not come home. They deserve much better than being abandoned without explanation."
"Under no circumstances should children have to fend for themselves. Child welfare is one of my highest priorities and it is essential that children are protected and cared for when their parents are detained," Sen. Kohl said. "This legislation offers safeguards for children whose parents are placed in federal custody so they are not left on their own."
On June 22, 2007, ICE agents staged a raid in the Jackson Heights Manufactured Home Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Early that Friday morning, around 6:00 am, federal agents seized a husband and his wife for suspected immigration violations. They didn't notice the couple's daughter, who was sleeping. Later that morning, the seven year-old girl was found wandering the park, looking for her parents. It wasn't until some neighbors saw her and called the authorities, that she learned what had happened to her mom and dad.
The HELP Separated Children Act strengthens humanitarian protections enacted by the Bush and Obama administrations and extends them to any enforcement action. Specifically, it:
· Keeps state and local authorities in the know. It's state schools and child welfare agencies that address the aftermath of immigration enforcement actions. Building on existing standards, this bill makes sure that state authorities are notified before or soon after enforcement actions.
· Effectively identifies at-risk kids. Detainees are afraid to tell ICE that they have kids at home. This bill permits child welfare agencies and local NGOs to screen detainees to identify parents and locate at-risk children.
· Allows parents to arrange for care of their children. Detained parents must receive free, confidential calls to arrange for their kids' care. They should not be transferred unless they know how to contact their kids -- and what will happen to them. No matter where they are, parents must be allowed daily calls and regular visits with their children.
· Protects kids during interrogations. Kids should not be forced to witness their parents' interrogations or translate for ICE agents.
· Allows parents to participate in family court proceedings -- and alert authorities to abuse. This bill requires authorities to help detained parents participate in family court proceedings affecting their children. It also gives parents free calls to report child abuse.
· Protects the best interests of children. This bill requires ICE to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.
The HELP Separated Children Act is also co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Related legislation was introduced in the House by Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).