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'Children's Safe Welcome Act': New bill prioritizes well-being of children in immigration custody
Bill, reintroduced by Sen. Merkley and Rep. Kamlager-Dove and supported by advocacy orgs, offers much-needed reforms

Two young girls sit next to each other. One looks at her book, the other smiles at the camera.

WASHINGTON — A bill reintroduced today in Congress reimagines how children are treated in government immigration custody by prioritizing and respecting young people's health, safety and familial connections.

The Children's Safe Welcome Act, introduced today by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA-37), restructures the immigration process around the best interests of immigrant children, who for too long have been subjected to a dehumanizing system that frequently separates them from their families and undermines their well-being. The bill is supported by leahttps://www.theyoungcenter.org/ding child-focused experts and advocates, including the National Center for Youth Law and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, both of which provided expert guidance throughout the bill’s development.

The bill is 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 Espaillat (D-NY-13), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL-20), Sara Jacobs (D-CA-51), and James P. McGovern (D-MA-02).

"The government routinely fails children who are seeking protection at our border, and it must do better. For years, our team has listened to children in detention centers all over the country share heartbreaking stories of their experience in custody” said Neha Desai, an attorney and senior director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, which has direct access to children in immigration custody as counsel in the Flores Settlement Agreement. "It is painfully clear that we need stronger protections, and the Children’s Safe Welcome Act represents a critical step in the right direction."

The Children's Safe Welcome Act, initially introduced in 2022, prioritizes keeping families together, placing children arriving alone in family-like settings, and promoting the prompt release of children to minimize the time they spend in federal immigration custody.

Mary Miller Flowers, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs at the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, praised the legislation for putting the best interests of children first.

"We know, thanks to decades of research, that children thrive when they're with family," Flowers said. "This bill really encourages family unity and ensures that young people's time in government custody will be brief and their needs, health and otherwise, will be supported."

The protections and oversights built into the Children's Safe Welcome Act are long overdue.

"It shouldn't be too much to ask that children who seek protection at our borders are cared for humanely and swiftly placed with families," said Desai, with the National Center for Youth Law.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation's approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Attorneys and advocates with the National Center for Youth Law have direct access to children and families in immigration custody, due to the organization's role as Flores counsel. This has allowed NCYL attorneys to witness, up-close, the harm the current immigration system continues to inflict on children and their families. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights protects and advances the rights and best interests of immigrant children according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state and federal law. The organization serves as a trusted ally for children who arrive in the U.S. on their own or are separated from their families at the border. For more information, visit www.theyoungcenter.org.