Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Protections Act (2021)

AB 1140 (Rivas)

Thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children come to the United States each year, fleeing violence, war, and poverty.  These children are temporarily taken into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) until an appropriate sponsor is identified or until they can be placed into long-term foster care while they undergo immigration proceedings.

Unaccompanied immigrant children often do not have the ability to exercise their rights and ensure their safety and well-being in these facilities in the same way as other Californian children because they lack access to resources and advocates with both the training and authority to assist them.

The California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson is an independent, impartial, and confidential agency trained to investigate complaints about the treatment of youth in state-licensed childcare settings, and to educate youth and licensed programs about their rights and responsibilities under California law.  The Ombudsperson could be crucial in safeguarding the rights and best interests of unaccompanied children in federal custody when state-licensed programs have failed to meet their obligations.

Some key examples of how the Ombudsperson’s Office will be able to assist unaccompanied children through this legislation include:

  • Investigating complaints made by or on behalf of unaccompanied children about treatment in state-licensed childcare settings
  • Educating childcare program staff about their state licensing obligations and children’s personal rights under California state law

California can set a national example by making explicit the state’s role in exercising oversight over the treatment and care of children in state-licensed ORR facilities. AB 1140 is a simple clarification of the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction, as well as responsibility, to engage in this important oversight.

In addition to the National Center for Youth Law, the bill’s supporters include: Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) (co-sponsor); Youth Law Center (YLC) (co-sponsor); Legal Services for Children (LSC) (co-sponsor); Immigrant Defense Advocates (IDA) (co-sponsor); Vera Institute of Justice (co-sponsor); Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) (co-sponsor); Immigrant Defenders Law Center; and Public Counsel.

Author: Assemblymember Robert Rivas