by Melanie Tom and Laura Jiménez
"Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." – Nelson Mandela
If you can, take a minute and imagine a situation where you are arrested or detained for some reason. Now imagine that you have children at home or in school awaiting your arrival but you never show. You are also not given the opportunity to make a phone call to ensure that your children are placed safely in the care of a trusted friend or family member so they are placed in Child Protective Services. This is happening right now to families all over America and it has to stop.
A part of keeping families safe and secure is making sure that in times of misfortune, children and their parents are able to communicate. Some families in America are not given that option. According to the Shattered Families report released late last year by the Applied Research Center (ARC), more than 5,000 children of undocumented people are currently in the foster care system throughout the states because their parent(s) are either in immigration detention or have been deported. Because of the difficulty of coordinating efforts between local law enforcement agencies, county child welfare departments and the Department of Homeland Security, many parents in this situation have not been able to make their own arrangements for their children so that a family member can care for them, and many have even had their parental rights terminated.
This situation is unacceptable and violates the basic human rights and dignities of families in this country. It is inhumane that governments at all levels have allowed this situation to continue without making some simple fixes– fixes that would ensure that children know that their parents are safe and vice versa.
AB 2015 – the Calls for Kids Act, sponsored by Forward Together and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, suggests some simple solutions to this problem. This bill will ask California law enforcement to take responsibility for our village of children and help parents to do their jobs by facilitating additional phone calls for them to arrange care for their children when arrested, as already permitted under the existing law. And it proposes a way for parents to notify their children’s caregiver when they are detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to prevent the loss of contact that has been experienced by so many families thus far.
This is an issue of importance to us because of the disproportionate rates of incarceration of people of color through the criminal (in)justice system and the rising rates of detentions and deportations by the Department of Homeland Security. Not only are people of color being targeted but now our children are being undeservingly taken away from us because of a lack of implementation of policy and an all-around lack of empathy from law enforcement.
Women and families of color have done our best to provide safety and security of our children. This is our resistance, our determination to raise whole, healthy families in spite of the oppressive circumstances of our lives. Let our collective vision be that all families matter – promote family unity, protect parental rights, prevent children from entering foster care unnecessarily. Support Calls for Kids by taking action NOW!
Melanie Tom is the Field Organizer at Forward Together.
Laura Jiménez is the Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.
This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at www.mamasday.org. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.