Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today cosponsored legislation that would protect the safety and well-being of minor children who have been left alone and vulnerable after their parents have been arrested or detained by U.S. immigration authorities.

The lawmakers said the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act is necessary 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. They said that with the Trump Administration seeking to step up enforcement operations targeting immigrant families, and planning to separate children from their parents during enforcement operations, action is needed to protect children impacted by the administration’s actions.

The HELP Separated Children Act’s protections for these children include:

• 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;

• 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, including allowing parents to say goodbye to their children prior to being taken into custody; and

• Requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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).

In 2013, during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, the previous version of the HELP Separated Children Act was the only amendment – out of nearly 200 amendments – to pass by a unanimous roll call vote.

Joining Sens. Menendez and Booker on the legislation are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard (Calif.-40) introduced the HELP Separated Children Act in the House of Representatives, where its cosponsors include Congressmembers Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.-13), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.-07), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.-07), Grace Napolitano (Calif.-32), Darren Soto (Fla.-09), and Filemon Vela (Texas-34).