Expands protections & retains tribal connections for Native children in the welfare system
Santa Fe, N.M. – Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed new legislation expanding and codifying protections for Native American children in the state’s child welfare system.
Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis (D-Albuquerque), House Bill 209 creates the State Indian Child Welfare Act (SICWA), establishing a New Mexico version of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Established in 1978 in response to overwhelmingly high numbers of Native American children being forcibly removed from their families and tribal communities nationwide, ICWA establishes standards of protection for Native American families in the child welfare system. It aims to “protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.”
“Creating a state version of the ICWA guarantees that Native children in New Mexico’s child welfare system will continue to be safeguarded by the protections in the Act, no matter what might happen at the federal level,” said Rep. Louis. “Based on input from local ICWA workers, tribal leaders, New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department, advocates, and impacted communities, we’ve also expanded our state Act to provide further protections and to recognize and honor the traditions and cultures of New Mexico’s 23 tribes, nations, and pueblos.”
There is a long and dark history in New Mexico of Native children being removed from their families that continues today with current policy that overlooks the cultural significance of maintaining tribal family ties. Crafted with substantial input by the New Mexico Tribal Indian Child Welfare Consortium which was formed in 2015 to address this issue, House Bill 209 is significant in its inclusion of Native voices to address a uniquely Native issue.
HB 209 passed the House with 53-15 vote, and will now advance to the Senate for consideration.
Members of the public can track legislation on the New Mexico Legislature website, access committee meetings and House floor sessions via the Webcasts tab, or participate by Zoom to provide public comment on committee hearings. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the House of Representatives is focused on passing critical legislation while protecting the health and safety of the public, the staff, and the legislators.