Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD. Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce the Help Separated Families Act. This legislation proposes common sense solutions to keep families united and reduce the number of children in foster care as a result of immigration enforcement action.
During the first half of last year alone, more than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported from the United States. In the wake of their parents' removal, a growing number of children have been placed in foster care and left to languish, or worse yet, have been separated permanently from their families when their parents' rights are terminated. It is estimated that over 5,000 children in at least 22 states are currently living in foster care as a result of immigration enforcement policies.
As parental deportation and detention rates have risen in recent years, the devastating impact on families has increased. Mothers like Encarnacion Bail Romero, who was apprehended in a federal immigration raid in 2007 and torn from her then-seven-month son, often face insurmountable barriers to family reunification. Ms. Romero, a native of Guatemala, had her parental rights terminated while in federal custody after a judge ruled that ``illegally smuggling herself into the country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for the child.'' Her son Carlitos was adopted out against her will to a new family who now calls him Jameson, and Ms. Romero has not seen him in approximately five years.
What this case and so many more like it tell us is that, in the U.S., immigration status in itself has become grounds to permanently separate families. This is absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable--particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly.
The bond that exists between children and parents is not weakened by country of origin or immigration status. Undocumented parents love their children and want the best for them as all parents do, yet our broken child welfare and immigration systems undermine the best interests of their families. The Help Separated Families Act helps address this heartbreaking issue.
To ensure more children are cared for by family members, my bill prohibits immigration status from disqualifying a parent, legal guardian, or relative from placement consideration. While current law allows undocumented individuals to become a foster or adoptive parent, our child welfare system continues to be biased against undocumented caregivers, as evidenced by a 12-year-old boy in Michigan who has spent two full years in foster care with strangers after both of his parents were deported. Even though his aunt and uncle sought custody, they were denied by the child welfare agency on the basis of their immigration status.
The Help Separated Families Act also facilitates family unity by prohibiting states from petitioning to terminate parental rights based on the deportation or detention of a parent, provided certain conditions have been met. This provision protects the legal rights of parents and prevents child welfare agencies from unfairly, unnecessarily, and permanently separating children from their parents.
Our broken immigration system has torn apart families and taken a terrible toll on communities. I ask my colleagues to join me in doing our part to keep families together by supporting the Help Separated Families Act.