Children of immigrant parents who do not have papers that authorize residency in the United States are vulnerable to losing support or receiving support erratically. In 2007, the Office of Immigration Statistics under the Department of Homeland Security estimated that over 11.8 million unauthorized immigrants were residing in the United States. American courts are increasingly confronting cases involving the custody of children where one of the parents is undocumented. This proposal is to establish an program that will function as an ombudsman to mixed-status divorced or unmarried parents for the purpose of establishing and maintaining child support payments. The program is adjunct to the New Jersey ChildSupport agency.
It is the intention of the program to support the work of ChildSupport by focusing on a segment of their target population that has proven hard to identify and hard to serve. By establishing an ombudsman program the work of which will be very salient to the courts, the hope is the program will encourage family court judges to find in a manner that promotes positive resolution of undocumented status and, thereby, facilitates the proper and ordered provision of child support to children of mixed-status parents. While the program cannot directly influence family court decisions, the very existence of a dedicated resource to work on complex family situations may act as a catalyst to bring together those entities with the power of official influence to the situations faced by mixed-status parents.
The States vary with respect to whether they are permitted by law to not consider the issue of an undocumented parent's status. Some courts expressly refuse to take a parental immigration status under consideration, while other courts insist on the consideration. The issue of court consideration of parental immigration status occurs at the intersection of family law, immigration law, and international law.
Mixed-status families may consist of legal immigrant parents with a citizen child or undocumented parent and a citizen child. "Both types of families may be reluctant to apply for public benefits for citizen children. Illegal immigrants are likely to fear detection and deportation or worry that use of services by their citizen children will prevent them from eventually adjusting to legal immigration status" (McFarland & Spangler, 2008, p. 259). Family courts that do take immigration status into account fall into four discrete categories: (1) Discrimination -- the family court judge "refuses to grant custody to the undocumented parent" because of bias toward immigration status, or "orders the undocumented parent to show steps toward correcting the situation of undocumented status" (McFarland & Spangler, 2008, p. 269); (2) Manipulation -- the family court judge attempts to "change the status situation by entering orders that will assist the undocumented parent to obtain the status necessary" (McFarland & Spangler, 2008, p. 269); (3) Obfuscation -- the court "uses other reasons as a pretext for a decision that is primarily based on immigration status" (McFarland & Spangler, 2008, p. 269); and (4) Accommodation -- the family court judge "responds to the consequences of the status" (McFarland & Spangler, 2008, p. 269).
Problem description. Child support concerns are made even more complex when the non-custodial parent is undocumented or is in the process of applying for citizenship. Individuals who are living in the United States without the requisite documents are frequently relegated to marginalized jobs that pay less than the minimum wage. A primary concern of a non-custodial undocumented parent is avoiding deportation. This can mean that employment stops and starts as the individual without papers tries to keep one step ahead of the authorities in order to avoid deportation. Local child support enforcement offices can attempt to arrange support agreements with foreign countries, but the prospects of the custodial parent receiving those payments are more remote than if the undocumented noncustodial parent resides in the United States.
For the custodial parent who is a U.S. citizen, this situation means that child support may be erratic, at best, and that efforts to track and contact the non-custodial undocumented parent can jeopardize what little child support the custodial parent does receive for the care of their children. Children of mixed-status parents are more likely to end up living with a single parent, usually their mother. High rates of poverty are associated with single parenthood. A determination of the number of children living in poverty depends on which benchmark is used. When the benchmark is $22,350 for a family of four -- the federal poverty level -- nearly 15 million children in the United States (21% of all American children) live in poverty ("Children in Poverty," 2012). However, research indicates that nearly twice that amount is needed on average for a family of four to be able to meet basic expenses ("Children in Poverty," 2012). Using this basis, the number of children living in low-income families rises to 44% of all American children ("Children in Poverty," 2012). In the State of New Jersey, there are approximately 1.105 million families with 2.017 million children ("Children in Poverty," 2012). The number of low-income (defined as living 200% below the federal poverty level) children living in New Jersey is 566,428 or approximately 28% of the children ("Children in Poverty," 2012).
Program outline. In accordance with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Rennekamp & Jacobs, 2001), program design and development has been accomplished by using a logic model. Logic models are instrumental in program development since they provide a framework for identifying program inputs, outputs, and outcomes.
Inputs are the resources needed to conduct a program. Inputs include such things as time, money, paid staff, volunteers, materials, facilities, equipment, and the efforts of partners. Inputs are the costs of conducting a program. The program will be housed in the ChildSupport facilities and will be charged administrative fees for the shared overhead to include secretarial, custodial, and facilities costs. Equipment for the agency will include two computers, a printer, telephone headsets and consoles, desks, chairs, tables, and file cabinets. Materials will include printed brochures and business cards. In-kind donations are anticipated from established community partners of the ChildSupport agency, such as private social services agencies and community service organizations.
The New Jersey ChildSupport program is not just a single organization, but instead is a national commitment to addressing the issue of child support that brings together the power of federal and state laws. The New Jersey ChildSupport program is supervised by Department of Human Service, Division of Family Development, Office of Child Support Services, and is administered in the individual counties of the state. Specifically, the county Boards of Social Services handle cases involving child support. Their work includes locating noncustodial parents, file complaints with the courts for child support and paternity, which these welfare agencies can help to establish. In addition, the Boards of Social Services also provide access to childcare, employment services, Medicaid, and welfare. The county Family Courts are involved in child support cases to schedule, conduct, record, and keep track of court hearings and order, and to address issues of custody and visitation. Finally, the Probation Divisions have the authority to ensure that child support continues through enforcement efforts, to monitor the money that is due and has been paid for child support.
Financing. The program will be supported by private foundation grant money. Funding proposal will be sent to a number of charitable organizations and foundations, commensurate with established caps on grants. Start-up funds will be requested in the amount of $100,000 with an annual budget of $250,000. The largest cost in the budget is personnel expenses, followed by office expenses. Administrative costs are set at 6.5%.
Staffing. The program will be staffed by two paralegals, one social worker, and one program coordinator. All staff members will work full-time and will receive a benefit packages as negotiated with the agencies providing these services to regular employees of the ChildSupport agency.
Outputs are the things that an organization does with the inputs it commits to a program. Outputs are the specific actions taken by the organization in response to an identified need or issue.
Analysis. Children in mixed-status families live uncertain existences that are exacerbated by the continuous threat of deportation of a parent. Mixed-status parents inordinately avoid accessing public programs and as a result, their children may suffer unnecessarily. Lack of access to child support is a particular problem for this population. The program will provide council to custodial parents who are part of a mixed-status unmarried or divorced relationship.
The program adopts the values exposed by family courts that assert they will not consider the immigration status of parents when making decisions that hold impact for children. The State of New Jersey expects parents to provide support to their children. Ameliorating the negative impacts of a mixed-status parents' fear of engaging with public programs supports the State statutes, the mission of the ChildSupport program, and maximizes opportunities for assisting children of mixed-status parents to obtain they support they deserve and that is mandated by law. The policy objective is…