New Directive Will Minimize Harm of Immigration Enforcement on Children and Families

Washington, D.C., July 14, 2022—Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a revised “parental interest directive.” This announcement builds on previous versions of the policy, which has historically been designed to uphold the rights of individuals taken into ICE custody who are the parents and legal guardians of minor children, including those with children involved in the child welfare system. The new policy, which takes effect immediately, is an important step in preventing permanent family separation caused by immigration enforcement. Currently, more than 5 million children–the majority of whom are U.S. citizens–run the risk of losing at least one undocumented parent to detention or deportation.

Like previous versions of the policy, the new directive ensures that parents and legal guardians detained by immigration enforcement officials can make decisions about the care of their children, participate in child welfare case plans and court proceedings, and choose to bring children with them if they are deported. For the first time, the policy also extends these protections to parents and legal guardians of incapacitated adults.

“CLASP welcomes this new directive, which will ensure this nation’s immigration enforcement policies don’t unnecessarily tear families apart. Our own research has shown the devastating harm of detention and deportation on children, in particular when parents are unable to make decisions about the well-being of their child,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

The new directive includes the following improvements, which CLASP and partners have been advocating for:

  • Ensures that individuals in ICE custody are screened to identify parents and legal guardians at every encounter during the immigration enforcement process;
  • Strengthens access to visitation between parents and legal guardians and their minor children, including improved procedures on initial placement and transfer decisions;
  • Creates a point of contact for parental interest concerns at all ICE field offices, as well as some detention facilities, and requires those employees to undergo new training;
  • Requires that the national parental interest coordinator be notified by local points of contact in all cases involving the child welfare system;
  • Requires a case review prior to an individual’s deportation to consider parental interest concerns and assess appropriate actions to support affected children;
  • Restores the option for humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis for deported parents to return to the United States to participate in-person at Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) hearings;
  • Requires coordination between ICE and the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to facilitate implementation of the directive; and
  • Requires DHS to maintain a centralized database of information regarding parents in custody.

However, unlike the original 2013 directive, this one fails to include language recommending the use of prosecutorial discretion in cases involving parents or legal guardians of minor children in the United States. Previously, such individuals have not been considered priorities for immigration enforcement due to the heavy costs to families and communities of these enforcement actions.

“We are particularly grateful that the directive includes several opportunities throughout the immigration enforcement process for individuals to voice parental interest concerns as well as an opportunity for deported parents to return for critical court hearings that could compromise their parental rights. We still believe that the only way to minimize the trauma to children caused by immigration enforcement is to release parents so they can care for their children as they await the outcome of their case. However, improvements in the new directive will help mitigate the harm and uphold our nation’s values of family unity and protecting children,” said Dutta-Gupta.

For more on how DHS can mitigate the harm of immigration enforcement see CLASP’s recommendations.