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What happens to the American-born children of immigrants who face deportation from the United States? Throughout most of the country, they become wards of the state, leaving immigration officials, case workers and families scrambling to find them a home.
But Maryland parents concerned about being deported can now plan for the care of their children. Newly expanded emergency guardianship measures went into effect last week, allowing parents to designate a temporary guardian for their children.
We discuss how this new law came about and the reaction from the immigrant community in our region.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
DAN REEDYou're tuned into the Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Dan Reed of Greater Greater Washington, sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Coming up later we'll discuss the evolution of the Washington Posts' popular $20 dinner column. But first what happens to the American born children of immigrant parents, who are facing deportation from the United States. Throughout most of the country they become wards of the state, leaving immigration officials, case workers and families scrambling to find them a home.
DAN REEDBut Maryland parents concerned about being deported can now plan for the care of their children, newly expanded emergency guardianship measures that went into effect last week and allow parents to designate a standby guardian for their children. Joining me now to discuss these measures and what they mean for parents living with the fear of deportation are Carlo Sanchez, former Maryland State Delegate from Prince George's County. Thank you for being here.
CARLO SANCHEZOh, thank you.
REEDAnd Ava Benach, an immigration attorney. Thank you for being here.
AVA BENACHThank you.
REEDCarlo, congratulations on being a former state delegate as of noon today. The new general assembly was sworn in.
SANCHEZThat's right. The pressure is off and be careful with a mic in front of me now. (laugh)
REEDSo this is an expansion of guardianship laws that were already on the books in Maryland the new legislation was passed last spring and went into effect at the beginning of the year. How did the idea for this come about?
SANCHEZYeah, so this is something that over the last couple of years we've kind of had a couple of cases that have come to our attention, different delegates and senators in the general assembly. But over the last year with the national threats to DACA and to TPS, all of a sudden we found ourselves having conversations, me especially with the district that I represented where there were a lot of people who were concerned about losing status and not knowing what would happen to their children and they really wanted to see what options there were and once we looked into the law we realized that there really wasn't anything there to protect them.
REEDAva, it's known as standby guardianship, how does it work and what would trigger it?
BENACHWell, it's standby guardianship in that it lets a parent designate somebody to be a guardian on standby in case a certain immigration action befalls them. This has existed previously in Maryland law for when a parent becomes mentally or physically debilitated and now they've added immigration adverse actions to the list of criteria that can trigger standby guardianship.
BENACHSo what a parent does is that they designate somebody they trust and they care about and they love to be the caretaker for a child in case they are detained, deported or otherwise affected by an adverse immigration action. That doesn't -- they fill out the paperwork. They prepare it. They hand it to the standby guardian, who then can file it should that triggering event occur. So nothing is filed with the court until something actually happens.
REEDCarlo before this law came into effect, what would happen to these kids?
SANCHEZYeah, from the stories that we were getting. I mean, it seems like they would just -- either a relative -- they would kind of have these -- the families would have these agreements, where a relative would just take the child. The problem then is they don't really have any sort of legal ability to make decisions for the child, if you've got to move them into a new school district, if you have to make healthcare decisions and things like that. And it's a situation where once again the parent--if the child is getting some sort of assistance from the government right now -- these new parents or guardians can't really apply for that.
SANCHEZAnd so it was really creating a situation where we even had kids going into the foster care system once, it was discovered that their parents weren't here and they didn't have a legal guardian. And so it really put a burden on the families and also on the state where these children, who might have had someone who could care for them, were all of the sudden were wards of the state.
REEDAre there special criteria that someone has to meet to be a standby guardian?
SANCHEZNo, I mean, as long as the parent agrees to it and the paperwork is filled out and the parent signs off, saying this is the person that I want to care for them, I trust that the parents are going to make decision make sure that they hand their children off to someone who is responsible.
REEDYeah, Ava, designating a guardian for your child feels like complex legal territory. Does this require a lawyer and if so, you know, are -- how can undocumented immigrants who may not have access to a lawyer be able to afford this -- make this happen?
BENACHI think that's a challenge and I would commend -- first of all commend the former delegate on this legislation. I think it's a great benefit to many people. I'd also commend the Maryland court system, which has already put up an application online. And it's available in English and Spanish and it's pretty self-explanatory. It's a fill in the blank sort of document. It lists what you want. The sort of things that you want the guardian to be able to do for your children. It names a guardian. It gives the exclusions -- certain people who have been convicted of crimes for example can't be guardians. But that's always been the guardian law.
BENACHSo it's a real simple process. I think that social services agencies are going to step in and provide a lot of support and help for this. But I think it is a problem, because I think a lot of undocumented immigrants have a very big reluctance to engage with the court system, with the government and, you know, may not have a very sophisticated understanding of legal concepts.
REEDCarlo, you know, once a standby guardian takes custody of a child do they get help from the state?
SANCHEZThey can. It really just depends once again on one the services that the child is already receiving beforehand, right, and this allows for a handoff of -- so that those services and the help that's coming in to the child continues and then it really depends on, you know, if the new guardians qualify for things as well. And I'm sure Ava would probably have a better idea of how they handle the sort of switch over to the new guardians.
REEDWould you say then that's it's actually less of a burden on the state on the current or previous system?
SANCHEZOh, absolutely. I mean, I think anytime that there is this amount of not knowing what's going to happen to a child, right, and you think about the school systems and how the school systems have to handle this. I think this really creates a lot more -- it's streamlined and it just makes it much more simple for parents and for the state agencies to be able to handle these issues.
REEDThe terms for these temporary guardianships are about six months, what happens after that?
BENACHWell, at the end of those six months the child can either go back to the custody of the parent, maybe join that parent in a foreign country, or the temporary guardian can petition for a more permanent type of custody. Hopefully at that point they will be more comfortable with the system and more comfortable with how it works.
BENACHI want to add on to something that the delegate said there, which is that if a guardian can't step in these kids would often wind up in the foster care system. In the foster care system there are subsidies to the foster parents. There's a lot of financial things that the state takes on to help a foster parent raise kids. Now, in a guardianship relationship they don't get that. They don't get that support from the state. But I think everybody would agree that it would be a better solution for a child to be in the care of a loving relative or friend of the family rather than go into an anonymous foster care system.
REEDI'm Dan Reed in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about new emergency guardianship laws for undocumented families in Maryland. I'm talking here today with a newly former state delegate Carlo Sanchez. How prevalent are these cases of parents having to leave children behind, because of immigration proceedings?
SANCHEZYeah, I mean, the best we can do is have anecdotal, right, I've got personal experiences and conversations that I've had with parents, the neighbors that live across the street from my parents for example. They came to me and they had concerns, because they're here under TPS. They're from El Salvador. They had a 17 year-old daughter and two sons who were younger than that.
SANCHEZAnd they basically were saying, you know, I just hope that my TPS status is good until our daughter turns 18, then she can care for her brother and sister and she might have to drop out of the college and get a job and be able to support them, but we may stick around and we may be able to help, but, you know, we won't be able to have our jobs anymore. We're going to have to transfer the house over to her. And so it's a big burden that falls on to them.
SANCHEZI mean, look my parents were here as undocumented immigrants, you know, they were undocumented until I was 5 or 6. And my mother use to tell me all the time -- once I got older, she used to tell me, you know, if something happened we had a plan in place, but there was no way that -- I left a country that I felt was unsafe -- to have you go back there and grow up there. So, you know, she always had a plan in place, but it would have been something that would have been really difficult for us to be able to carry through.
REEDAva Benach, you're an immigration attorney. Have you seen a number of these cases in this region are they growing or --
BENACHYeah, I've seen quite a few. You know, certainly in the early stages when TPS was being canceled and DACA was being canceled, people would come in and they'd be sort of panicked and they'd say, Do I have to go to Honduras now? Do I have to go to El Salvador now? Do I have to go to Haiti now? And what's going to happen to my DACA kids and all these things? People have asked us to prepare these types of guardianships and to prepare documentation.
BENACHI think -- you know what I've always told people, especially people who have had TPS and may have a couple United States citizen children is that just the initiation of an adverse immigration action, just the initiation of deportation proceedings isn't the end of their stay in America. They've got a fighting chance. There's an immigration court system that still functions, which is ironic as I haven't had an immigration court hearing in three weeks, because of the shutdown. (laugh)
BENACHIt definitely -- it still functions and people, who -- you know, I don't want people to be unnecessarily fatalistic that -- okay, they ended TPS, what can we do for you next? What's your next plan? What's the next step? Yes, let's take care of the kids. Let's make sure that they are going to be watched in case anything terrible goes wrong, but you still have a fighting chance and you deserve the right to fight for your right to live in America.
REEDWe've talked a lot about this new law in Maryland and, Ava, how do Virginia and the District of Columbia handle these cases? Could you talk about how they -- how they're the same, how they're different?
BENACHWell, they don't have a standby guardianship. As far as I can tell, the only other state that does is New York. And the New York statute was initially passed in response to the HIV crisis, which, I think, tells you a lot about the nature of the crisis that these standby guardianships are meant to alleviate. And so, you know, we're going from the HIV crisis in the early 90s and the late 80s to today's deportation crisis.
REEDCarlo, what are you hearing from the immigrant community about this new law?
SANCHEZYeah, it's something that we're really trying to get the word out about it. The people that are now finding out, the people that had questions and are going to speak to their attorneys or other organizations are actually happy that there's something in place now. And now they can kind of plan ahead and, you know, make sure that they don't have to worry about their kids just kind of being left on their own if something were to happen to them while they're at work or, you know, during a traffic stop or whatever else.
REEDAva, have you been hearing from your clients and contact with the community? What are you hearing?
BENACHI'm hearing that there's definitely a desire to have something like this and it's definitely filled the need. You know, where the federal government is sort of stepping back in its responsibilities to immigrants, states have stepped in, but, you know what, the private sector has done as well. There are apps that people put on their phones where they can push a button and it notifies a few people that they've been detained by immigration and someone has to pick up the kids at school. So the immigrant community has been working to take care of itself for a long time. This is really a welcome step.
REEDYou say there's also a dark side, whenever a new law like this, particularly one focused on the undocumented community, comes into effect. Now, there have been a lot of issues with people becoming targets of scams for instance, you know, tell us about that.
BENACHThe undocumented population is unfortunately subject to a lot of scams that pray on their vulnerability and their unwillingness to report crimes to the police or to government agencies. It is entirely possible that some of these scam artists, who have been operating in immigration for years and decades and ever since immigration laws have existed, will pray upon their communities by charging excessive amounts of money for things that people don't need, not filing forms, not preparing them correctly. And sometimes these actions taken by notarios and various unauthorized practice of law folks really put people in legal peril. And that's the risk is that not only are you going to lose money, but that you're also going to create some legal consequences.
REEDLooks like we've got a call from Catherine in Bethesda. Catherine, you're on the line. Welcome.
CATHERINEYes, hi, my name is Catherine and I worked on this legislation actually with Carlo. And so I just want to -- and worked on the -- I just wanted to let your viewers know that the new form can be found on the Maryland webpage. As it's called Maryland courts. You google Maryland courts website and the number of the form is CC-G, as in George, N, as in Nancy, -041. And so anybody who wants to look at the form can just go on the webpage of the Maryland courts and see it. That's all I wanted to add.
REEDAwesome. Thank you so much.
SANCHEZAnd if I could, I would be remiss if I didn't shout out Senator William Smith and he's still the senator. So good for him. But he was really instrumental. We had quite a battle to get it out and we moved this bill out in one day on the last day of session last time. So it was an exciting time. But he definitely deserves a lot of credit for the work that he did on this as well.
REEDSo do you have advice both of you for people with immigration status issues when it comes to the dealing with the threat of being detained and deported?
BENACHMy advice is to know your rights and know your situation. I think everybody deserves an honest appraisal of where they stand. It's not the same thing if you have a removal order and have been living on borrowed time for years and you're concerned about the risk that you're going to get picked up and removed. It's not the same thing as if you have been on TPS for 12 or 15 years and you have a US citizen family member. You have rights. You have options. There are things you can apply for. There are immigration benefits out there.
BENACHPeople really need to get a good honest assessment of their risk and their options and that's what we've been doing since TPS was eliminated. That's what we've been doing since DACA was eliminated. It's, Okay, this is the new reality. How do we adjust to it? How can we fix it? And if it can't be fixed at least that's good information to help them protect themselves from the scam artists.
SANCHEZYeah, and I think, you know, they shouldn't be afraid to ask questions. That's really the big thing. With people that are dealing with these statuses that are unknown or if they're here undocumented, sometimes they are afraid to ask, because they think it's going to bring unwanted attention to their case. But a lot of times with so many laws that are changing and -- especially in the state of Maryland -- we are constantly advocating for things and trying to make policy changes. It's important that people ask questions and know what the situation is and maybe there is something that they're covered under, right?
SANCHEZWe're going to be fighting hard to get a U-Visa update here in Maryland. We going to update the Dream Act, hopefully this year. So there's a lot of things that we're trying to do to protect people. And so they just have to ask a question. They can't be scared.
REEDAwesome. Carlo Sanchez is a former Maryland state delegate, from Prince George's county. Thanks for being here.
REEDAnd Ava Benach is an immigration attorney. Thank you for being here.
REEDYou're listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show. I'm Dan Reed of Greater Greater Washington. We'll continue our conversation in a moment. Stay with us.
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