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Fate of Foster Children Unclear After Prop. 187 : Social services: O.C. officials want to know what is in store for the 67 illegal immigrant youths in their care.

November 12, 1994|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Social Services officials are anxiously trying to determine the fate of 67 illegal immigrants in the Orange County foster care system whose futures are uncertain in the wake of the passage of Proposition 187.

Social workers and foster care providers are worried that the youngsters, many of whom were abused and abandoned by their parents, may be left with no place to go if funding for their foster placements is withdrawn.

"We're concerned because these kids are victims of abuse and neglect," said Larry Leaman, director of the county's Social Services Agency. "Federal and state law requires us to protect all these kids and legal status isn't mentioned. Does 187 change that? If so, what are we to do with the kids in our system who we find are undocumented?"

The measure, passed overwhelmingly by voters Tuesday, bars illegal immigrants from receiving educational, social and non-emergency medical services.

The county has approximately 3,000 minors in its foster care system who are either living with families or in group homes. Their immigration status is not routinely checked by social workers when they enter the system, officials said.

"We want to make sure (state officials) are aware of this potential dilemma," Leaman said. "Policy-makers need to address this situation so we're not flying blind."

Leaman was told this week that state officials are in the process of developing emergency regulations on how to enforce the proposition. Until then, he said, "We're not changing anything."

Lawsuits have been filed in courts throughout the state challenging Proposition 187.

But Leaman is worried nonetheless.

"If you let your imagination run wild, you can envision kids who are victims with no ability of government to spend money to help them," he said. "Maybe there's something in the fine print of 187 that says nothing changes."

One of the measure's co-authors, Harold Ezell, said even he isn't sure how the proposition will affect foster kids.

"It's something we don't have a set answer on," Ezell said. "You put these broad parameters out there and the refinement is done in the regulations. But whether a child or young adult is a ward of the court or in foster care doesn't change their immigration status."

Ezell, a former western regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said illegal immigrant foster children may require special attention if the law is implemented.

"If they have been orphaned or abandoned or delinquent, all of that has to be taken into consideration with an immigration judge," Ezell said. "They may have to go before an immigration judge and ask for a stay of deportation."

County records reveal several dozen examples of children who were brought to California illegally, then abused, neglected or abandoned. Among them are:

* A 14-year-old boy who was sent by his family in Mexico to California to live with his older brother. The brother abandoned the youth, who went to work as a live-in maid for an Orange County family and then was fired from that job. The homeless youngster jumped off a bridge, but survived and was placed in a group home.

* A 12-year-old boy whose mother moved to North Carolina to find work, leaving him in the care of her boyfriend. A short time later, the boyfriend abandoned the child, who is now in a group home.

* An 8-year-old girl who was brought here from Romania in 1990 by her adoptive mother. She was abandoned and left in an abusive situation with the adoptive mother's relatives. The child is now living in a group home.

* A 16-year-old boy from England, who was neglected and exploited by his father. The boy received a large settlement from an auto accident and the father tried to use the money for his own personal gain while refusing to seek medical and psychological care for his son.

* A 14-year-old boy whose mother held his hand over a burning stove, cut him with a kitchen knife and struck him with a broom and metal tubing.

"These are kids who are so fragile and have been injured emotionally, physically and spiritually," said Mary Ann Xavier, director of the Florence Crittenton Center in Fullerton, a residential treatment center for 180 troubled children and youth. "They've already been totally uprooted and put into another environment and now another fear has been thrown into them.

"These are really damaged kids and we'd like them to be at ease," Xavier added. "It's real scary to them. We have been taking their emotional pulse. We have kids who are asking how they can become legal. We also have girls who are illegal but have babies who are legal and that creates a real complication."

Xavier said other children are concerned because some of their relatives are illegal immigrants. "Wherever their families are, they may not be there when they go looking for them," she said.

Xavier said that until they are ordered to do otherwise, staff members at the center's two campuses have vowed to continue business as usual.

"We have made a commitment that our first obligation is to protect these kids and keep them safe," Xavier said. "Whether or not we are for 187, we leave that at the door when we come to work."

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