Earlier this week the United States Senate Judiciary Committee finished adding fifty (50) amendments to a significant immigration reform bill. Those amendments were joined by another thirty-five (35) and last night the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to pass the bill and it will be presented to the Senate after the Memorial Day recess.
Notable in the bill was a fully supported amendment designed to protect children of affected by immigration enforcement actions. The amendment essentially incorporates a piece of legislation known as the “Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act” (“HELP Separated Children Act”). The HELP Act provides that within two hours of detainment, the detaining authority will inquire as to whether the individual is a parent or primary caregiver for a child in the U.S. and allow them a minimum of two phone calls to arrange for care of the child and provide the individual with the contact information for child welfare agencies and family courts in the jurisdiction where the child resides. The individual will also be provided information for a relevant consulate, attorneys, and legal aid services who can assist with child welfare/custody and immigration matters.
The HELP Act also has prohibitions on the detaining authority from compelling children from translating interviews with their parents (unless a medical need necessitates), as well as moving the parent from their area of apprehension until child care arrangements have been made. While in detention, the parent will have regular telephone access to the child and, to the extent possible, be able to attend any custody or dependency proceedings related to the child.
This amendment is a well-reasoned attempt to protect a group of children, many of whom would be American citizens, who would otherwise be unprotected during the initial stages of their parent’s detention and, potential deportation, action. A “best interest of the child” standard is not just applicable in a custody case, and it is refreshing to see that common sense prevailed in allowing some basic provisions to ensure the care for a child will occur quickly after the parent’s detention and bring some order to an otherwise traumatic experience for the child.