“The Fosters” – Immigration and Foster Care

Note: The new ABC Family series “The Fosters” portrays a same-sex couple and their family of biological, adopted, and foster children. Appleseed’s child welfare team will provide periodic reviews of episodes and discuss the real-life issues raised by the show.

ABC-Family-The-FostersHello everyone, our child welfare team is back from our recent trip to Washington D.C., and we have been looking forward to again catching up with The Fosters. There has been a lot of drama on the show in recent weeks, which has made for great television, but there has not been as much of a focus on the foster care system.

While we continue to watch every week, we will only plan to blog about systemic issues within the foster care system. Fortunately, there was a timely and systemic issue that was raised during last week’s episode. While there were many dramatic moments throughout last week’s episode, no issue was more dramatic than the revelation that both Lexi and her parents were undocumented immigrants. This week, we are going to focus on the intersection between the immigration and foster care systems.

During this episode, Mariana’s former best friend (and Jesus’ current girlfriend), Lexi, ran away from home after her parents threatened to send her to boarding school in Texas. Steph and Lena quickly joined forces to help Lexi’s parents look for her, but, for some reason, they were hesitant to file a missing persons report. Later in the episode, we found out why Lexi’s family was so hesitant to contact the police — unbeknownst to Lexi, both she and her parents are undocumented immigrants.

Although Lexi is not in foster care, there are many children in similar situations that do become involved with the child welfare system. In 2011, 5.5 million children in the U.S. (4.5 million of whom were U.S. citizens) had at least one parent who was an undocumented immigrant, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report. A 2011 Applied Research Center analysis reports that more than 5,000 children were in state foster care systems after being separated from a parent because of immigration enforcement actions. This is one reason our current, outdated immigration system takes a heavy toll on families by leaving children without parents and placing them in state care.

That includes Nebraska, where cases involving parents and children at the intersection of the state child welfare and federal immigration systems have gone up to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which in these cases recognized due process and the fundamental right to family integrity.

This episode was certainly timely and raised an issue that everyone is discussing, including Congress: federal immigration reform. Within that bill, the Senate included an amendment specifically recognizing the need to clarify protections available to families at the intersection of the immigration and child welfare systems. Although Lexi is not in foster care, there are thousands of children across the country who who don’t know that they are undocumented and many families that are too afraid to call the police because of their immigration status. Now more than ever, there are people and perspectives calling for a common-sense way forward for our antiquated immigration system so that families like Lexi’s can remain united and have more certainty in their future.

Be sure to keep checking our blog regularly for more reviews of The Fosters and discussion of the issues the show raises.

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