When Immigrant Parents are Detained or Deported, What Happens to Their Minor Children?

For Arizona parents, child custody and parenting time are the terms used to describe the main issues parents face in divorce. Child custody refers to the responsibility to support and provide a home for a child, and is usually shared between the parents (joint legal custody) with respect to the most important decisions that affect a child's education, welfare and health. In any situation where the parents live apart, however, questions as to the physical custody of the child must be resolved. Usually, one parent has primary physical custody, while the other has regular access to the child and overnight or extended visits under a parenting time arrangement. In some cases, the parents agree to shared physical custody, which means that the child spends half the time in each parent's home. But what happens when a problem with the parent's immigration status separates the parent from the child? Yesterday, a press release at Tucson's University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law brought to light a serious problem with current immigration and our child welfare system. The child welfare problem detailed in a recent UA study examined how detention and deportation of immigrant parents can affect their minor children in the U.S. When Detention Extends for a Lengthy Period. The subject of what happens to the children in these situations was the concern of UA Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) — Nina Rabin is the author of the headlined report and is the director of border research at SIROW. As Rabin points out, immigrant parents may be detained for more than just a few days. Detention may continue for months and even years in some cases. The period of detention depends greatly on the individual's ability to qualify for an immigration bond. The bond allows the parent to defend his or her immigration status while outside any detention facility. Many individuals will not qualify for an immigration bond. Those parents who are held based on their immigrant status alone will be given a choice between voluntary deportation and remaining in detention until their case comes before a judge. It can take eight months or longer for the case to come to court. If an appeal is taken from the judge's decision, either by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the immigrant, then detention may continue for a year or years. Federal Immigration Enforcement vs. State Child Welfare. The children of detained immigrant parents have few options. On the one hand, it is not the job of federal immigration enforcement to arrange for the care of the children who are not in its custody. On the other hand, the states find themselves with children who have no available parent to provide care and support. The states, then, have no reasonable alternative but to step in and provide for the child's welfare. As Rabin stated at the press release, "from the [state] child welfare system's perspective… if [the] parent disappears, they have to move on, they have to find a permanent home for this child." No Parenting Time in Detention. When an immigrant parent is detained in the U.S., there is no particular system in place to allow parenting time with the child or children. The Mexican Consulate in Tucson will attempt to assist, as best it can, with communications between judges and legal professionals and the detained or deported immigrant parent. According to the consulate's Isaias Noguez, "we can serve as a bridge to allow contact with the parents that are detained or are now in Mexico." Furthermore, "through the Child Protective Services in Mexico [DIF], the consulate can, again, act as a liaison so that the appropriate authorities in the U.S. and in Arizona can contact the authorities in Mexico so that we can attain a reunification of the minors [with their families]." When the immigrant parent is unable to meet the time period within which to regain custody of his or her child, either because of detention or deportation, then his or her parental rights may be terminated by the state. When parental rights are terminated, the child can be placed for permanent adoption under state law. At the Law Offices of Scott David Stewart, we understand that, just like the children involved, every child custody dispute is unique. Our family law attorneys will work closely with you to help you identify and articulate your objectives. With our help, you'll develop a sound understanding of your rights and obligations under Arizona's family law statutes. And we'll execute the legal strategy that's right for your goals and circumstances, so your family can thrive again. Resource: Arizona Public Media: Dealing with Disappearing Parents http://www.azpm.org/news/story/2011/5/11/1830-dealing-with-disappearing-parents/

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