Helping Immigration Justice of Separated Children (“HIJOS”) is an informal coalition comprised of individuals who came together to see how to maximize assistance to children in need of various types of services, in preparation for when the shelters in Maryland indicate what is needed. HIJOS has 200 individuals comprised of therapists (physical, art, music, expertise with trauma and children), pediatricians, social workers, family and immigration law attorneys, as well as community organizers and activists.
Soon after the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy resulted in the separation of immigrant children from their parents, this group quickly formed to consider how needs and assistance could be handled by volunteers in Maryland. Betsy Cunningham and Siobhan Miller, both NLG Maryland Chapter members, have been instrumental in the administrative details of investigating what is happening and communicating this among the larger group. The intent was that HIJOS would only function for a few weeks or months, until there was confirmation that separated children placed in foster care in Maryland were reunited with their families. However, in spite of court orders, there remain children and parents NOT reunited.
Findings: Placement is made by the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement “ORR” (within the Department of Health and Human Services) with its approved “shelters.” ORR refers to this as Foster Care, but it is NOT the Maryland State Foster Care System. There is no state oversight of ORR, nor oversight of the children placed in the State of Maryland. The only State authority appears to be of the “facility” through a Maryland DHS licensing law.
The Attorney General’s office immediately started asking questions of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services and joined a multi-state law suit. See links: June 19, 2018 Press Release; June 20, 2018 Press Release; June 26, 2018 Press Release; Copy of Complaint; and Letter to US DHS. The Attorney General has not received responses from Federal Agencies. There has been no movement on the lawsuit.
Maryland US Senators and Representatives were briefed by Federal authorities, but say they are unable to take any action regarding the immigration policies, because they are the minority party. The Inspector General is conducting an investigation on the Federal side of how this failure of immigration services came about (no estimate of when the report will be completed).
Maryland Governor Hogan was also briefed that there would be between ten to twenty separated children placed in Maryland (nothing close to the 250 children figure which was originally announced). When Maryland Delegates and the Maryland Hispanic Caucus in the House of Delegates requested additional information and action from the Governor, Secretary Padilla of the Maryland Department of Human Services responded that the separated children issue is a Federal matter and there is nothing the Governor can do.
There appear to be two legal mechanisms that might still be possible in Maryland to have access to the children:
- Under powers granted under the Flores Settlement Agreement (“Flores”) there can be appointed representatives to see the children. It appears there is no Flores representative designated for the State of Maryland. In the meantime, the Trump administration and DOJ have voiced intent to exempt, modify or otherwise terminate authority to appoint monitors/representatives granted under Flores. For more information on Flores, click here. And on September 7, 2018, DHS and HHS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking with provisions it says would “parallel relevant and substantive terms” of Flores and terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement. Written comments and related material must be submitted on or before November 6, 2018. Federal Register link.
- Under the authority granted to disability Protection and Advocacy units, part of a nationwide network of disability rights agencies set up by Congress, representatives have access where there are disabled children. ORR has recently confirmed this authority and monitoring has begun, but we are not aware of it happening yet in Maryland. See link.
Bottom line: HIJOS volunteers have not been able to gain access to the children to assess the situation or offer pro bono services to children and their parents. HOW CAN I HELP?
(a) Make calls to your local Delegates, and Federal representatives. This issue is now on a back burner for them. Let them know you expect their leadership and expertise to give this issue priority. This is not just a legal issue. That is why HIJOS includes all kinds of professionals concerned about the children. Likewise, this issue is no longer on the front or editorial pages. Call media outlets and ask questions.
(b) Where are the children? What is happening for reunited families who want to seek asylum? Why are there still children who are not reunited? When will they be reunited?
(c) There are recently introduced bills in the House and Senate. Do you have time to read and review bills? HIJOS could use your help on this.
(d) Have you heard of groups organizing in other States or NLG groups to follow the placement of the children in their States confirming how they are being treated, and affirming they are reunited with their families?
You are welcome to join the HIJOS coalition and choose among ten Affinity Groups to get more involved in what’s happening to separated children. To join, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.