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How immigration enforcement can change children's lives

While many people in Pennsylvania expect to consider child custody only in the case of divorce, emergency situations could bring custody matters to the surface in unrelated cases. The escalated immigration enforcement actions against undocumented people -- and alsome documented immigrants -- have led to children being left in the hands of grandparents and other family members if their parents are deported. Since the children in question are often U.S. citizens, their parents may want them to remain behind.

Of course, extended family situations are not limited to immigrants facing detention or deportation. Around 20 percent of all kids being raised by grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts or other extended family members come from immigrant backgrounds. These number more than 500,000 children across the country. Researchers have noted that if the harsh immigration policies continue, this number can also be expected to rise. When the new carers are also vulnerable to attention from immigration authorities, they may be hesitant to make their child custody arrangements known or seek assistance from social services.

As a result, some state agencies have assigned caseworkers to prepare custody plans for children whose parents are facing deportation. These American citizen children can be directed to family members of the parents rather than lost in the child-protection system. The complex situation also reveals conflicts between state governments and federal immigration actions, especially when states have the responsibility for child protection and social affairs. A bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to formalize this process of designating standby guardians.

Grandparents, aunts and uncles may find themselves caring for a child of a loved one. They may need to protect their relationship with the children by formalizing custody arrangements. A family law attorney can provide confidential consultations and representation to an extended family going through this process.

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