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Heinrich Says Indian Child Welfare Act Helps Keep Native Children Connected To Their Communities And Cultures

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 16, 2019) – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) signed an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit as the court re-opens its August ruling that affirmed the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

“Preserving cultural and communal ties for Native children in the legal system must continue to remain a priority for court’s working to determine the best interests of a child,” said Heinrich. “The Indian Child Welfare Act helps keeps Native families together. It is critical that Congress continue to ensure the safety and well-being of all children - in New Mexico and across the nation - and protect the sovereignty of tribes.”

Congress passed ICWA in 1978 after receiving testimony that 25 to 35 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children were removed from their homes by state and private adoption agencies. ICWA sets best-practice standards for child welfare and adoption proceedings involving children who are members of a federally-recognized Tribe or are eligible for membership in a federally-recognized Tribe. Over four decades, the law has become the “gold standard” for child welfare policy and keeping Native children connected to their communities and cultures.

In October, the Second Judicial District Children’s Court in Bernalillo County launched a new court to address historic challenges related to compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, a move Heinrich welcomed.

“Our American Indian and Alaska Native children are essential to the security and stability of each tribe. In each Indian Child Welfare Act court proceeding the judicial Officer and other court professionals must be mindful that children are the heart of the 41-year-old law. Committed uniform application of ICWA will advance and protect the best interest of each child and enhance tribal security and stability,” said John J. Romero, Jr., District Judge, Children's Court Division.

“Our children do much better socially, emotionally, academically, and economically when they stay with their families and in their communities,” said Cheryl Fairbanks, Executive Director, Native American Budget and Policy Institute. “Congress enacted ICWA in part due to the overwhelming evidence that shows placing Native children outside of their culture and communities has an extremely detrimental and long-lasting impact. We are very grateful that Sen. Heinrich and other members of the Congressional delegation recognize tribes’ political status and are supporting the tribal position on Brackeen.”