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October 7, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in a comment letter urging the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to preserve state licensing protections for facilities that serve unaccompanied immigrant children in any future rulemaking.
The letter, in response to the federal government's request for information, highlights the states' longstanding experience caring for the wellbeing of children and the importance of retaining state licensing schemes that safeguard the health and safety of children, as well as immigrant communities.
"These federal facilities have failed to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of these children," Nessel said. "Children deserve protection, regardless of where they come from. I am urging the ORR to preserve state licensing protections for these facilities so that states may continue to provide adequate care for immigrant children."
In the letter, the coalition notes that ensuring child welfare, including establishing and enforcing standards of care for licensing of residential placements for children, is a police power vested in the states. States, accordingly, have a long history, stretching back to the nineteenth century, of enacting child welfare laws that guide the care and protection of minor children who cannot remain safely at home.
These comprehensive standards and licensing procedures ensure that residential placements for children provide the care and services necessary to support children's healthy development in settings that further the best interests of the child. For example, the coalition states follow a policy of placing children in the least restrictive setting to meet their particular needs and have developed comprehensive standards to protect the personal rights, health, and safety of children in residential facilities.
These protections can include the right to visit and contact siblings and family members, attend religious services, participate in extracurricular activities, go to school in the community, receive prompt, comprehensive medical care, and to be placed in out-of-home care in accordance with their gender identity.
The failure to respect the carefully crafted protections in state licensing requirements can unacceptably put the health and safety of children at risk. For instance, ORR's previous use of non-state licensed facilities to house unaccompanied children has raised serious concerns about the health and safety of children detained in those facilities.
Protecting immigrant children is important to states across the country. Every year, thousands of children are released from immigration custody and reunified with family members or other adult sponsors who are residents of the coalition states. These children become members of their communities and neighborhoods. Together, nearly half of all children who will be released from immigration custody by the federal government this year are expected to be placed in the coalition states. In order to protect the welfare of these children, it is critical that ORR work directly with the states to collaboratively care for unaccompanied immigrant children.
Joining Attorney General Nessel in sending this comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.