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For some immigrant children, entering the foster care system could lead to U.S citizenship

Nathalie Vera/
For some immigrant children, entering the foster care system could lead to U.S citizenship

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.-- More migrant children have entered the foster care system following the ongoing crisis at the U.S - Mexico border. On the Central Coast, child welfare agencies are prepared to help minors regardless of immigration status.

“If we receive complaints, concerns or allegations of abuse or neglect, we send Social Services out to investigate that, and determine if the child can remain in their home," said Linda Belch, Deputy Director at Child Welfare Services in San Luis Obispo County.

Legal experts say entering the foster care system could create a path to citizenship for an undocumented minor.

“There's a court order that the judge gives that the child will not be able to reunify with one or both parents, and that it's not in the best interest of the child to go to the country where the parents are from," said Susana Covarrubias of La Hermandad Mexicana, a Central Coast nonprofit organization offering immigration services.

Covarrubias says migrant children who enter the foster care system face unique challenges.

“It's a frustrating process because these kids are already having difficulties living the lifestyle that they're living, moving from home to home –and on top of that they're having to go through this immigration process.”

In SLO County, Child Welfare Services says it provides all foster care children the same support, regardless of immigration status.

“If there was a concern about maybe alcohol or drug use, we would connect them with those services. If there was mental health counseling needed, we would make sure that they access the services," said Belch.

If the minor faces specific barriers related to their immigration status, the agency partners with other experts.

“The Mexican consulate works very closely with our families if we do have a particular situation where we need some expertise," said Belch. "We also have county counsel available to us if we need any help with the legal services.”

Covarrubias says a child would first apply for legal permanent residence.

“Depending on the country of the child, it can take anywhere from three years, to four or five years," she said. “Once they get their residence card and they're over 18 and have been a resident for more than five years, then at that point they can apply to become a U.S citizen.”

A migrant child who adjusts their status by entering the foster care system would not be able to petition their biological parents for citizenship.

Covarrubias says in Ventura County, La Hermandad Mexicana is handling about 15 cases. In SLO County, Child Welfare Services reports there are no pending cases at this time.

Overall, San Luis Obispo County has more than twice as many children in foster care than Santa Barbara County.

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Nathalie Vera


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