At a meeting of the Los Angeles County Children’s Commission on Monday, several Los Angeles County agencies and advocates described the impact of tightening federal immigration policies on children and families in the county.
According to Isabel Sanchez, an advocate with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), worry of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids is impacting the daily lives and well-being of immigrant families at increasing rates, including undocumented parents having stopped going to work, pulling their kids out of school and even not taking children to the hospital for fear that ICE officers will be there waiting to detain them.
With one in five children in L.A. County having at least one undocumented parent in the home, Sanchez reported that CHIRLA’s recent focus has been to quickly inform undocumented immigrants about their rights through presentations and public outreach, a tactic that many L.A. County agencies are also employing to engage undocumented residents.
Luciana Svidler, an attorney with the Children’s Law Center, which provides legal representation to children in the county’s child welfare system, said the firm is working intently to engage undocumented caregivers in the guardianship process and to assist parents in the system with reunification, when possible.
According to a report by the The Chronicle of Social Change last week, many families have become leery of participating in background checks and fingerprinting during the application process to become legal guardians or foster parents because of fears of deportation as a result of new immigration policies put in place by the Trump administration.
Svidler believes that, in an already overburdened foster care system, an additional influx of children due to lack of familial or guardian placements could be problematic for the county. Increased ICE presence and fear of deportation could prevent caregivers and parents from completing the reunification process, leaving the county no choice but to place more children in foster care.
Roberta Medina of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) said that all caregivers, no matter their immigration status, are encouraged to create a caregiver affidavit, in case of emergencies. This point is now being emphasized with undocumented caregivers. For these cases, Medina said that DCFS is encouraging these families to identify a secondary guardian that would take in the child in the event of a deportation.
Access to mental health amid fear of deportation is a big concern for L.A. County’s undocumented community, according to Department of Mental Health Deputy Director Miriam Brown.
“Thirty-eight percent of undocumented individuals using our services are not keeping their appointments out of fear of being picked up,” Brown said. “We need to keep emphasizing that we will maintain confidentiality. We also need to continue pushing our clients to make a safety plan, including appointing a power of attorney in the face of deportation and encouraging them to discuss these plans with family members.”
When asked what the county should do to support these efforts, Brown suggested that policy should be created to explicitly make all county facilities a safe space to immigrants, including not asking about immigration status when accessing services.
Sanchez of CHIRLA said that deportation fears are becoming a deeply ingrained part of many communities in L.A. County.
“This fear is so pervasive across the communities we serve,” Sanchez said to the Commission. “We have even observed children playing tag on school playgrounds, whereas, the person who is ‘it’ is named Trump and when they tag the other children, they shout, ‘Now you’re being deported!’”