California's governor yesterday signed two pieces of legislation aimed at protecting immigrant parents and their children from permanent separation. The bills, inspired in part by Colorlines.com's Shattered Families investigation, take steps to stop U.S. citizen children from getting stuck in foster care if their parents are detained and deported. But the immigrant rights victories are tempered by Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to veto the closely watched Trust Act, a bill that would have curtailed the state's participation in Secure Communities, the federal government's core deportation program.
The two family bills were introduced earlier this year to address the separation of families at the intersection of deportation and the child welfare system. In November, Colorlines.com published a national investigation that conservatively estimates over 5000 children are stuck in foster care with detained and deported parents.
The first bill, SB 1064, introduced by Sen. Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles, extends the period of time for family reunification afforded to deported parents. Current California law provides between six months and a year for families to reunite before courts move foster children into adoption, but parental detention and deportation often makes it impossible for parents to take part in reunification requirements. The bill allows judges to lengthen these timelines when deportation erects barriers to reunification.
De Leon's bill also instructs child welfare departments to ignore immigration status when evaluating an adult family to care for a young relative. Without such clear guidance, many county child welfare departments refuse to place foster children with their own relatives if the adults are undocumented immigrants. The effect is that these kids can end up in the custody of strangers.