SFCASA Advocacy Areas


Why We Advocate

Working with undocumented youth and families involved in the foster care system requires careful consideration of the unique challenges that they face, including their immigration status, language requirements, and cultural needs. Additionally, undocumented youth and families may grapple with the trauma of migration and adjusting to a new culture, fear of deportation, challenges in finding legal work, the inability to access services, lack of identification, no access to federal financial aid for college, and a limited ability to enroll in independent living programs. Furthermore, some undocumented parents find it difficult to comply with service plan requirements because they are not eligible for publicly-funded services.

The immigration and citizenship status of a child in foster care can greatly affect the available permanency options and how the social services agency might approach the process. This resource offers information and strategies for helping immigrant children and youth achieve permanency.

Challenges for undocumented youth:

  • The majority cannot work legally or get Social Security Number.

  • Many cannot get a state ID.

    • AB60 allows undocumented Californians to receive a driver’s license, but it should not be used (will not be accepted) outside of the state (i.e. for airplane travel). Applications for an AB60 license may be risky if there is an outstanding removal order on the applicant. Read more about AB60 here.

  • Cannot receive federal financial aid for college.

  • Not eligible for most public benefits.

    • Minors can still get emergency MediCal if they are under 19, but are not eligible for food stamps or other cash assistance.

  • Risk of deportation. 

  • May experience feelings of exclusion, instability, and constant fear of deportation.

Issues that may come up when working with immigrant youth:

  • Education

  • Employment 

  • Parents’/guardians’ status or safety

  • Driver's licenses and identifications

  • Benefits

  • Travel

  • Law enforcement  

How to Advocate

Best practices for working with undocumented or mixed status immigrant children and families requires creativity, care, and timeliness. The following practices are recommended:

  • Refrain from referencing the youth’s status in court reports. If necessary, use vague language to describe barriers they may face. Ask your Case Supervisor for examples specific to your case.

  • Provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to immigrant children and families. Make interpreters available during all child welfare meetings and court proceedings. Do not use children as interpreters for their parents.

  • Ensure that immigration status is not used as a reason to deny services or kinship placement of children in foster care.

  • Know the services and rights afforded to immigrant children and families. For example:

    • All children, regardless of legal status, have a right to equal access to K-12 public school programs. Proof of U.S. citizenship is not required for enrollment.

    • All immigrants, regardless of legal status, are eligible for emergency Medicare, which covers treatment for medical emergencies. Hospital emergency departments must screen and stabilize all people with an emergency medical condition under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

  • Talk to your youth about their rights, including their right to stay silent if stopped by immigration or the police, and right to not open the door if ICE comes to their home. 

  • Stay in touch with their immigration attorney.

  • Accompany the youth to immigration-related appointments (fingerprint appointments, check-ins, medical exams, etc.), as appropriate. 

  • Help youth gather and retain case-related documentation (school records, medical records, police reports, etc.) 

Please reference this guide for additional best practices in working with an undocumented youth, and this resource from California CASA about how to navigate conversations in general with the youth that you serve.

Appropriate language to use as a CASA

Use “ proxy questions” that help gather information about children and families without directly inquiring about immigration status. Example of proxy questions include country of origin, language spoken at home, English proficiency, and length of time in the U.S. These types of questions will help address concerns about jeopardizing the legal status of family members and reduce the chance that questions will discourage families from seeking services.

Legal Rights

Under federal law, any abused or neglected child is eligible for short-term emergency medical care, shelter or other services necessary to address an emergency regardless of immigration status. This includes placement in foster care and services within the child welfare system.


  • All children have the right to education and do not have to show proof of citizenship or lawful residency. 

  • Immigrant youth have the same rights as non-immigrant youth when it comes to school discipline and rights, but if a school has a policy of referring cases to the police then this could lead to a youth being referred in turn to ICE upon arrest. 

  • AB540 allows undocumented students to pay the same in-state tuition as other California residents when attending college.   

All people in the United States, regardless of immigration status, have certain rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center “Red Cards” can help people assert their rights and defend themselves in many situations, including interactions with ICE agents. You can access a Red Card from SFCASA or visit the ILRC website for more information.

Resources/links to learn more

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

National Immigration Law Center: Know Your Rights 


Immigration Center for Women and Children (ICWC) is a non-profit legal organization that provides affordable immigration services to underrepresented women and children in California. Legal services are provided on a sliding scale fee system that is based on income and family size.

BayLegal is the largest provider of free civil legal services to low-income individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area. BayLegal provides comprehensive legal services to immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in collaboration with community partners.

Legal Services for Children (LSC) provides free legal services to minors and Transition Age Youth in guardianship, dependency, and immigration cases. LSC has a “warmline” (415-863-3762) for minors to call to speak to an intake worker . LSC also has a drop-in clinic on Wednesdays from 4-6PM and Thursdays from 3-5PM.

Instituto Laboral de la Raza provides labor rights education and legal advocacy services in English and Spanish.

Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC) provides information for immigrant students who want to attend college. 

Immigration Legal Providers:

Bay Area Legal Aid


Dolores Street Community Services

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach 

Catholic Charities

Immigration Center for Women and Children

La Raza Centro Legal

La Raza Community Resource Center

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

Pangea Legal Services 

San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative

San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network 

CE opportunities

None at this time.