Thousands of children are cut off from their parents each year when the adults are detained by immigration authorities or deported. Sometimes, the children are in school and have no idea that one or both parents have been detained. Later, when the adults fail to show for custody hearings, they may lose their parental rights.
That is the scenario that a nonprofit justice center network wants to change through a public information campaign that it launched in June to make Mexican migrants aware of their rights and of ways they can protect their children and their property, even if they lack immigration documents or legal standing in the United States.
The Appleseed Network campaign, “El Plan Es Tener un Plan” (“The Plan Is to Have a Plan”), was formally launched in Mexico City on June 25. Several human rights and legislative advocates on behalf of the rights of migrants, both Mexicans abroad and non-Mexicans in Mexico, attended the ceremony, along with members of the very popular grupero music band Grupo Bronco, El Gigante de America. The members of Bronco, who have been designated ambassadors for the human rights of migrants by Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), appear in the videos.
“Right now, the most important thing is to disseminate the material so that the migrants can take steps to protect their children and their assets,” Maru Cortazar, executive director of Appleseed Mexico said of the Spanish-language videos (and) campaign.
She said that she hopes that an arrangement can be reached to broadcast the videos, or shorter segments of them, in the United States.
In the videos, Lupe Esparza and other Bronco members explain that, regardless of immigration status, migrants have human rights and can take legal steps to protect themselves and their families.
The campaign calls on migrants to think ahead and assemble the legal documents they might need to protect their rights and their families, according Appleseed Mexico, which developed the public awareness campaign in collaboration with the human rights commission, as part of a larger effort on behalf of migrants in both the United States and Mexico who lack immigration documents.
“If a parent is detained, and they can be in detention for several months, the children remain in foster care,” said Cortazar, who’s nonprofit is part of the Washington, D.C.-based network of 18 legal centers providing research and harnessing pro-bono legal assistance on behalf of social justice issues. If the parents are unable to show up to assert custody of their children, they may lose their parental rights, she added. Thousands of adults have lost their children and have no way to get in touch with them, she said.
Low-cost notarized documents, such as a conditional power of attorney for assets and designation of a temporary guardian for minor children, may sound like really good ideas for parents and property holders generally. But they can spare added headaches when families are unexpectedly split up.
In the case of Mexican-origin families, the parents can also prepare for the unexpected by registering the U.S.-born children as dual nationals at a Mexican consulate, she said, so the Mexican government can intercede on behalf of the minors’ rights to either be reunited with their parents or remain in the United States while staying in touch with their parents. Families who choose to do so can obtain Mexican government-issued birth certificates and passports that will allow the children to travel to Mexico.
Additionally, people who have acquired property, have savings in a bank, are owed salaries, or tax returns, or alternatively are bound by leases, car loans or credit card agreements, among other debts, should consider legal avenues that they can take to protect their assets and fulfill their obligations to the extent required by law. By being prepared, they can avoid further complicating their situation and incurring legal expenses.
Appleseed Mexico, a HIP grantee and the only one of the Appleseed Network’s justice centers to operate outside the United States, based the public awareness campaign on its 2012 publication in Spanish and English of the manual “Protecting Assets and Child Custody in the Face of Deportation: A Guide for Practitioners Assisting Immigrant Families.”