from the federal government just for shepherding their young undocumented charges. Sandra Rodriguez has watched the friction increase over the past five years. For more than a decade, Rodriguez has worked as what CPS calls a “border contact liaison” She is responsible for trying to resolve immigration issues that arise between the state agency and federal immigration authorities. Rodriguez also oversees Region 11 for Child Protective Services and manages 54 caseworkers. Region 11 spans from Brownsville to Laredo and had 980 children in its care in the month of March 2008. She estimates that one percent of those children were undocumented. Last year, the Border Patrol detained one of Rodriguez’s caseworkers for several hours at the McAllen airport. The woman had been transporting an undocumented teenager, an emergency removal from an abusive home. \(More than 4 million people live along Texas’ border with Mexico but there are no residential treatment facilities or shelters for children who need special psychiatric care. Caseworkers must transport children who suffer extreme abuse or trauma to Houston, Dallas, or San took the teenager into custody despite court documents proving she was a ward of the state. Rodriguez says she and her supervisor spent all day pleading with the feds to release their colleague and the teenager from Border Patrol custody. “We faxed every piece of court order and documentation that we had, but their decision was to take the child into custody;’ she says. The caseworker, who could have been charged with aiding an undocumented alien, was eventually released without penalties. The child in her custody, however, was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and sent to federal foster care in another state. CPS has triedto no availto negotiate a blanket agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to allow the agency to transport undocumented children in their care through immigration checkpoints. “I have children sleeping in my office and I can’t get them past the immigration checkpoints for the treatment they need:’ Rodriguez says. “They are wards of the court and we are acting in good faith” The Observer contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ask about their policies regarding undocumented children in CPS care. The conversations that followed offered just a small taste of the bureaucratic tangle that children and their state custodians must unravel when negotiating with Homeland Security. Carl Rusnok, a spokesperson for ICE, referred the Observer to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Daniel Doty, a public affairs officer with the border protection agency, said policies regarding undocumented children under CPS care are not public information and declined to discuss his agency’s relationship with Child Protective Services. Both men said they were not familiar with the McAllen case. CPS confirms that Border Patrol detained as many as three CPS caseworkers, and the children in their care last year. For Rodriguez, what began as part-time additional duties helping CPS sort out immigration matters has become a more than full-time occupation requiring two assistants. “When this position started 12 to 13 years ago, it was on such a small scale. It was something you did to assist your colleagues:’ Rodriguez says. “And then it just exploded. I would say in the last five years I noticed the increase with more questions about immigration and more calls coming in for assistance from child protective caseworkers in places like Lubbock:’ CPS documents released to the Observer show the number of undocumented children in state custody has increased, from 254 children in 2004 to 280 children in 2007. At least 75 percent of those undocumented children come from Mexico, according to CPS documents. Texas has an agreement with Mexico regarding child welfare. Rodriguez works on a regular basis with the Mexican Consulate and the country’s child welfare agency, the Desarollo Integral de la Familia, to find missing relatives or to perform home studies to determine whether undocumented children in Texas should be placed with relatives in Mexico. Last year alone, caseworkers at the agency also cared for undocumented children from at least 23 other countries, including Vietnam, Germany, Canada, and Nigeria. Every week, Rodriguez works with foreign consulates to determine whether children in limbo should be placed in Texas’ foster care system or sent back to their home countries. “People don’t understand that it takes a lot of time,” Rodriguez says of the extra job she is now expected to perform. “You have to keep these working relationships going with the consulates. None of us do this full time. It’s something extra we do in addition to our regular jobs.” Rodriguez’s experience is not unique, according to Ilze Earner, an associate professor at the Hunter School of Social Work in New York who specializes in child welfare and immigration. Child welfare agencies all over the country are struggling to keep up with stepped-up enforcement against undocumented immigrants and the resulting increase in undocumented children caught in the system. “Whenever you have an issue that crosses both of those policy streams you are going to have very complicated interpretations of whose jurisdiction it is. Neither system knows how to talk to the other,” Earner says. “The only children who weren’t wearing prison clothing were the infants, because they couldn’t find prison uniforms small enough.” Barbara Hines, immigration lawyer MAY 16, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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