During a news conference Wednesday, Francisco Javier Diaz De Leon, Consul General for Mexico in Atlanta, said that an agreement negotiated with Georgia will help children separated from parents who have been deported or detained because of immigration issues. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

New agreement signed to aid children of immigrants

Georgia’s child welfare chief announced a new agreement Wednesday with the Consulate General of Mexico to help protect children whose parents get detained or deported due to immigration issues.

Children of those immigrants sometimes end up in Georgia’s foster care system. The Mexican consulate in Atlanta had pushed for an agreement to make sure that the consulate is made aware of the cases and can help facilitate reuniting parents and children when that’s deemed appropriate.

“I am extremely pleased to be entering into this agreement with the Mexican Consulate,” said Tom Rawlings, interim director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. “I anticipate that cases involving immigrant families will be resolved more efficiently and certainly more beneficially for Mexican minors with the consulate involved at the outset.”

Rawlings made getting such an agreement a priority shortly after he was appointed last year to lead the agency.

In a story published last summer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlighted the difficulties some parents faced in regaining custody of their children after they are deported. The AJC’s report described the case of a deported Honduran mother of four small children who waited more than a year to get her children back after they had been placed in foster care in Georgia.

Rawlings said his agency is now working to have similar agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The Mexican consulate in Atlanta has taken temporary custody of children so that its officials can fly the children to Mexico to be reunited with their parents. But the Mexican officials in Atlanta found that they weren’t always made aware that a child was in state custody. The reunifications can become especially complex when the child is born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, but the parent was not in the country legally.

Francisco Javier Diaz De Leon (left), Consul General for Mexico in Atlanta, and Interim Director for the Division of Family and Child Services in Georgia, Tom C. Rawlings, (right) sign a memorandum of understanding regarding consular notification and access in cases involving minors during a news conference Wednesday at the Consulate General of Mexico in Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Consul General Javier Diaz de Leon said the Memorandum of Understanding came after more than two years of negotiations and discussions between the consulate and the state of Georgia. “It represents an important step forward into creating and formalizing mechanisms of collaboration between both our agencies,” he said. “We trust that many Mexican children and families will benefit from this ongoing partnership and hope that consulates from other countries soon get involved in similar fashion.”

Once the consulate is informed about a case, it can help child welfare officials locate a parent who was deported or find another family member who may be the best person to take custody of the children. The Mexican officials can also coordinate home studies and interviews in Mexico that are necessary to help determine where a child should be permanently placed.

“Our job is to do the best we can to protect that child and to get that child in the best place for the child and the child’s future,” Rawlings said, “be it to remain here with family members, be adopted or to return to their home country.”

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