Children's Safe Welcome Act (2024)


The 'Children's Safe Welcome Act' prioritizes family unity for children in federal immigration custody

The Children's Safe Welcome Act represents a critical opportunity to prioritize the well-being and best interests of children in federal immigration custody.

The bill, reintroduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA-37) in May 2024, reimagines how children are treated in government custody by prioritizing keeping families together, placing unaccompanied children in family-like settings, and promoting the prompt release of children to minimize the time they spend in custody.

First introduced in 2022, The Children's Safe Welcome Act is supported by leading experts, advocates, and organizations focused on children's health and safety. The National Center for Youth Law has provided expert guidance throughout the bill's development. 

"This bill finally brings our law into closer alignment with what child development experts have long known — that children belong in the community in family settings, not in government custody," said Neha Desai, NCYL's Senior Director of Immigration. "Children who arrive in this country, many of them seeking to escape persecution, shouldn't have to endure further harm inflicted by the U.S. government. The passage of this bill would mark a major step forward."

Key provisions in the bill include:

  • Codifying minimum child welfare protections such as health and safety standards, state licensing requirements, and the best interests of the child standard;
  • Prohibiting family separations, with extremely narrow exceptions related to safety;
  • Prohibiting the use of family detention facilities, without exception;
  • Increasing health and safety standards for children and families in Customs and Border Protection facilities;
  • Phasing out large congregate care facilities and prioritizes family-based placements for unaccompanied children;
  • Prioritizing the swift release of unaccompanied children with disabilities and access to services in the community;
  • Requiring children to be placed in the least restrictive environment and limiting the placement of children in harmful restrictive facilities;
  • Limiting the use of influx facilities;
  • Guaranteeing legal representation for unaccompanied children at every stage of removal proceedings; and
  • Establishing an Ombudsperson to monitor and oversee compliance with this Act.

In addition to Senator Merkley and Congressmember Kamlager-Dove, this legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-CA-44), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL), Adriano Espailla.