Refugee children, New Mexico children

The federal government can ship a child back to the child’s home country, where the child’s life is in imminent danger. But if you want to take that child into your home, government won’t let you – to protect the child.

People want to do something for the children caught in the immigration crisis. But you can’t simply drive up to a border station and offer to take a child until the child’s parent is through the immigration process.

The children are in federal, not state, custody. Undocumented minors become part of the federal foster care system run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Separated children have been sent to group facilities that have federal contracts. None are in New Mexico.

If the state were in charge, you would have to qualify as a foster parent.  This process takes several months, including background checks and home visits. The first legitimate concern is to make sure prospective foster parents are not pedophiles or traffickers.

Our state’s system is not adequate for the number of New Mexico children needing foster care. There are about 1300 foster parents in the state, and well over 2000 children in foster care. In 2017, 152 foster homes had more than the recommended maximum of six children because there were no other available homes.

As if this were not confusing enough, a new change in federal law may reshape our entire foster care system, which is largely paid for by federal matching funds and therefore regulated by federal standards.  As described by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the law “effectively blows up the nation’s troubled foster care system.”

The law, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, was tucked inside the 2018 Budget Act passed in February.

It is based on the principle that children in difficult homes usually fare best if they stay with their parents.  Instead of removing children from their homes, it proposes to pay for programs that put families on treatment plans to help resolve the parents’ issues– – drug addiction, domestic abuse, or whatever.

The federal Health and Human Services Department is currently asking for public comment on figuring out how to implement this law.  New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department may have to make major changes to our system, but not until the feds figure out the rules.

You may have noticed the irony.  Keeping families together is the opposite of the border policy that separated all those children. Gee, government departments are contradicting each other’s policies. What a surprise.

And the State Department has just issued its annual Trafficking in Persons report, which claims that worldwide, children removed from their families and placed in institutions are at greater risk of being trafficked. Again, the irony is noticed.

For those poor immigrant children that we don’t seem to be able to help, I would like to say you could send them blankets or teddy bears, but I don’t think so. Just send donations to advocacy organizations you know and trust.

New Mexico may have more influence over the conditions of adult detainees, because two adult prisons here house immigrant detainees.

The Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee is planning to look into the private prison companies operating in New Mexico that incarcerate detainees. The committee will be asking about the state’s right to inspect and whether these companies plan to build more facilities in New Mexico.  A hearing is scheduled for July 16 at the Roundhouse.  Stay tuned.

While we’re spending untold taxpayer dollars to keep people locked up, helpless and unproductive, the president of the New Mexico Chile Association told me there aren’t enough workers to pick the crop. “There is a very real possibility that some crops that require hand harvest will not get harvested,” chile farmer Rick Ledbetter said.

If you feel like you’re halfway down the rabbit hole, so do I.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018

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