When parents are detained in immigration raids, who thinks of the children?

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken today introduced a bill aimed at helping the children of those swept up in immigration raids to avoid falling through the cracks as their parents face possible deportation.

The bill would require the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to create guidelines for dealing with children who have been separated from their parents and consider the children’s best interests in proceeding. Franken emphasized that immigration laws must be followed but enforcement has consequences for the children of illegal immigrants that also need to be addressed.

“Four million U.S. citizen children in our country have at least one undocumented immigrant parent,” Franken said, with 40,000 of them 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.”

The measure is a response to raids like a 2006 one at a Worthington meat-packing plant. Following that December raid, a second-grader and 2-year-old were left by themselves for a week until their grandmother arrived to care for them. Their parents had been detained.

According to Franken’s office, more than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in the last 10 years. Upon deportation, these children have no way to find their parents and frequently experience neglect.

Franken’s legislation would establish the following guidelines for dealing with children who have been separated from their parents:

  • Require enforcement authorities to inform state and local authorities of enforcement actions so they are aware of the children involved;
  • Allow child welfare agencies to screen detainees to identify parents and locate at-risk children;
  • Permit parents to conduct confidential phone calls to find care for their children;
  • Protect children from seeing their parents interrogated;
  • Entitle parents to have daily calls and “regular visits” with their children.

The bill is supported by the First Focus Campaign for Children and the Women’s Refugee Commission and co-sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. A similar bill was introduced in the House last July but has so far failed to clear committee.

Lauren Knobbe is an intern in MinnPost’s D.C. bureau.

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