Maryland courts will allow immigrant parents who are concerned about deportation to designate guardians for their children

Immigrant parents in Maryland concerned about being deported may now designate someone to care for their children under an expansion of emergency guardianship measures that take effect Tuesday.

It’s the latest move by state legislators to push back against the immigration policies of President Donald Trump. Attorneys behind the effort say it will reassure parents and prevent their children from becoming wards of the state.

“It’s emergency family planning. That’s what we were trying to provide people,” said Cam Crockett, an attorney in Bethesda.

Some 90,000 children of undocumented immigrants lived in Maryland between 2009 and 2013, the most recent years available in a report by the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute in Washington. That was about 7 percent of all Maryland children at the time. About three-quarters of them, or 67,000 children, are U.S. citizens, according to the report, “A Profile of U.S. Children with Unauthorized Immigrant Parents.”

Last year, the Trump administration moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Known as DACA, the program shields from deportation young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. But courts around the country have ruled the administration's reasoning was wrong and kept the program in place. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider the matter in 2019.

Additionally, the Trump administration has rescinded legal protections for immigrants from violent and politically unstable countries such as El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. The end of the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, means thousands of immigrant families will likely find themselves unauthorized to remain in Maryland.

“With a lot of the uncertainties at the national level around immigration policy, we just want to make sure Maryland children are taken care of,” said Del. Carlo Sanchez, a Democrat from Prince George’s County and the son of immigrants from El Salvador. “We want to make sure our Maryland children are protected and are safe and have a household.”

Sanchez and state Sen. William Smith Jr., a Democrat from Montgomery County, sponsored the legislation to expand Maryland’s temporary guardianship policy, which had previously applied to cases in which a parent died or became incapacitated. In May, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law.

“You have to put in place a clear path to make sure those children were taken care of,” Smith said.

Immigrant parents are able to find and print the “standby guardianship” forms on the Maryland Judiciary website. They may fill out the forms to designate a standby guardian, but they don’t need to file the papers with the court. Rather, the standby guardian carries the papers and presents them to authorities if needed. This process was intended to attract immigrants who may be otherwise fearful of filing papers with the courts.

A standby guardianship status will last six months. Then the guardian may file papers with their local Circuit Court for a long-term designation.

Social services agencies have not yet been flooded with immigrant children. But legislators and advocates say the law is an important precautionary measure.

“We don’t have any statistics at this point on the number of children being put into the foster case system. I’m sure there are, though,” said Crockett, the attorney in Bethesda. “There were lots of people expressing their fears around this.”

Advocacy groups are now working to tell families about the new forms. Eric Seymour, who works at the Catholic Charities' Esperanza Center in Baltimore, said the forms will comfort local families at a time of uncertainty.

“This provides a lot of peace of mind that there’s something in place if the worst would happen to them,” he said.

Standby guardianship forms can be found at www.courts.state.md.us.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/tim_prudente

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°