Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stark proposes law helping immigrant foster kids get green cards

FREMONT — Attempting to avoid situations in which undocumented foster children end up deported, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, proposed a new law this week that would help abused and neglected children get green cards.

The bill by Stark and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, would not change federal immigration law, but would force states and local child welfare agencies to pay more attention to an existing law, on the books since 1990.

The lawmakers said that each year, almost 1,000 children nationwide take advantage of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which allows certain children in long-term foster care to become permanent legal residents if they apply before they are 18. But many more children are eligible and do not apply, in many cases because foster care officials are not aware of their status as illegal immigrants.

"Unfortunately, because people don't know these rules, children are emancipating from the child welfare system in a kind of limbo status," said Ken Borelli, retired deputy director of the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children Services. "They can't go to college. They can't do hardly anything. But there are statutes on the books that would help them. It's a double tragedy."

Borelli, who was instrumental in crafting the original 1990 law, said the update proposed by Stark and Becerra makes sense.

Part of the new law, if passed, would require child welfare agencies to assist immigrant Advertisementchildren in obtaining legal residency before the child exits foster care, while also making the agencies document their efforts to do so. It would also make and help states create better plans and procedures and provide resources to train judges and lawyers on the issue.

Whether or not children take advantage of the current law varies widely by region and state, said Karen Grace-Kaho, foster-care representative for the state Department of Social Services. If local agencies don't apply for the special status, it can be damaging to children once they age out of foster care or are adopted.

"Many of the kids we've had cases with, they don't have any relationship whatsoever with the country they're born in," said Grace-Kaho. "They've been in the United States all of their lives and then, all of sudden, they're up for deportation."

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