U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, 19 Colleagues Fight to Protect Children When Parents are Detained By Immigration Authorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. [07/25/19]—This week, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to protect the safety and well-being of children who might be left alone and vulnerable after their parents are arrested or detained by U.S. immigration authorities in communities across the country.

Sen. Smith is pushing the legislation because, in the past, children have been abandoned at home or at school after their parents’ detention, often without information about their parents’ location and without adequate arrangements for their care. She pointed to a 2006 incident in Minnesota where, after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement carried out an enforcement action against a family in Worthington, one child—a second grader—came home from school to find his two-year-old brother alone and his parents gone without explanation. For the next week, he cared for his brother until his grandmother drove to meet them.

“It’s shameful that children are being abandoned at home or at school without information on their parents’ whereabouts,” said Sen. Smith. “My bill is a common-sense measure to prevent that unnecessary additional trauma by allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensuring that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained.”

“As the Trump Administration steps up its efforts to separate families, we must ensure children aren’t left to fend for themselves or care for younger siblings if their parents are detained by immigration authorities. This legislation would ensure children are safe, and it protects parents’ right to decide about their children’s future. I’m proud to join Senator Smith in this effort to support immigrant families through one of the most difficult moments in their lives,” said Sen. Cortez Masto.

“Every time a parent is detained or deported as a result of the Trump Administration’s reckless raids and expedited enforcement, a child endures tremendous trauma. These kids—often American citizens—are unacceptably left to fend for themselves. This bill would ensure that detained parents can see and speak to their children and provide for their safety and care. It upholds basic American values and respects the basic needs and rights of each child, regardless of their parents’ immigration status,” said Sen. Blumenthal.


Raiding homes and leaving children without their parents is cruel and un-American. This bill requires that ICE consider children when decisions of detention, release, or transfer are made about their parents. This is about basic humanity and it’s just the right thing to do,” said Sen. Kaine.

“All parents—no matter who they are—want what’s best for their children. Because of Trump’s cruel and dangerous immigration policies, however, parents are being torn apart from their kids who are then often left stranded to fend for themselves,” said Sen. Wyden. “It’s absolutely appalling that such a bill would even need to be introduced, but it’s essential that the U.S. Senate act now to ensure the safety and well-being of all kids.” 

“Now more than ever—as families in the interior of the country are facing the threat of increased enforcement actions coupled with new attempts to expedite the removal of parents—we need policies that mitigate the harm of these actions on children,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “In our own research, we heard about such deeply disturbing practices during home raids as children being interrogated alone or being separated from family members. We know that children suffer significant trauma and long-term instability from immigration enforcement, and entire communities also experience devastating effects. We thank Senator Smith for her leadership and this legislation that would help ensure children receive special protections during immigration enforcement actions and are not separated from their parents unnecessarily.”

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The Coordinating Care for Children Affected by Immigration Enforcement Act’s protections for these children include:

  • Allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensures that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained;
  • Allowing parents to participate in family court proceedings affecting their children;
  • Protecting children from being compelled to serve as translators for their parents in immigration enforcement actions;
  • Ensuring that parents can coordinate their departures with their children; and
  • Requiring ICE to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.

According to a 2011 study, there are more than five million children in the United States living with at least one unauthorized immigrant parent. The vast majority of these children are U.S. citizens. These children are vulnerable when their parents are the subjects of immigration enforcement, detention, and removal actions. When parents facing detention are not given the opportunity to make arrangements for the care of their children, this not only results in serious, avoidable trauma to children and families, but also unnecessary expenses for the state. Children of detained parents have been needlessly taken into the custody of state or local child welfare agencies. In the most extreme cases, because of their parents’ inability to participate in family court hearings, these children have been adopted or placed into foster care with well-meaning American families. Even when the outcome is not termination of parental rights, enforcement can lead to de facto permanent separation of children from their parents and cause tremendous harm to children, undermining their sense of security and even inflicting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Access text of Sen. Smith’s legislation by clicking here.