public-policy article

Bill Highlight: The Families Belong Together Act (H.R. 883 & S. 271)

March 27, 2019

Although media attention has waned on the issue of family separation, the harmful consequences of past policies persist. The National Assembly closely follows immigration issues that impact families and youth, including legislation that would begin to rectify the harm caused by last year’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Earlier this year, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced H.R. 883 and S. 271, which would grant lawful permanent resident status (LPR) to certain children separated from their families by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Families Belong Together Act defines an eligible child as someone who entered the U.S. before the age of eighteen, at a point of entry or between points of entry, and was separated from their parent or legal guardian by DHS absent a determination that the guardian is unfit or dangerous to the child. The legislation would apply to eligible children who are currently in DHS or the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who have already been released to a sponsor, or who have already been repatriated to their home country.

The bill also defines an eligible parent as either: the parent of an eligible child, or the parent/legal guardian of an eligible child who entered the U.S. with the child and was separated by DHS absent a determination that the guardian is unfit or dangerous.

Both eligible parents and children would be able apply for lawful permanent residence, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would be required to change their statuses within 30 days. Additionally, if eligible parents or children have requested humanitarian parole, USCIS must grant it to them. In both of these circumstances, fees imposed on eligible children or parents are prohibited.


The act would authorize an additional $5,000,000 for FY 2019 to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an office within the Department of Justice that is responsible for adjudicating immigration cases in the United States.

The National Assembly supports legislation that ensures children and their families stay together at all times. Children who experience the stress comes with familial separation, often called toxic-stress caused by “intense, repetitive or prolonged adversity without an adult’s intervention,” are more likely to develop mental health issues, inhibited brain development, and other long-term social and emotional challenges.

For more information about immigration legislation that impacts the human services sector, watch out for PolicySource, the National Assembly’s comprehensive database of public policy impacting the sector, due to launch in May.