Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill strengthening the state’s mandate to look out for the welfare of unaccompanied immigrant children housed in state-licensed facilities across California.
Children under the age of 18 who are not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian upon arrival to the U.S. are considered unaccompanied minors. After being apprehended at the border, unaccompanied minors are typically placed in such facilities until they can be reunited with a family member, sponsor or placed in foster care.
Assembly Bill 1140 explicitly charges the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson to provide oversight over the treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children staying in facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a program under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the bill, the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson will investigate and attempt to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of unaccompanied children and document the location and nature of complaints.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, said more had to be done to protect immigrant children arriving to the U.S. after fleeing poverty and violence in mostly Central American countries.
More than 30,000 children have been released to sponsors in California since 2014, according to data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The legislation comes nearly two years after attorneys with Disability Rights California released a report that said “ORR assessments and services fall short as compared to California state standards.”
The nonprofit disability rights group also found that ORR policies and requirements lacked adequate medical care and mental health assessments, as well as special education services, for children staying in those facilities.
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