SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a bipartisan coalition of 21 states in filing an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act, the attorney general’s office announced on Jan. 14.
According to the press release, ICWA is a 40-year-old federal law that furthers the best interests of Native American children and protects the sovereignty of Indian tribes by preserving children’s connections to their tribal heritage.
Becerra said the ICWA had a strong track record of not only helping to ensure the continued vitality of Native American tribes, but also of benefitting children and families as well.
“California is home to the nation’s largest Native American population; it is only right that we lead the fight to defend successful federal laws that have meant so much to our American Indian children, families and tribes,” Becerra said.
The attorney general said the ICWA had been a key factor in reforming child welfare system to stop the erosion of tribal sovereignty caused by decades of unnecessary removals of Native American children from their families.
“The California Department of Justice is proud to lead a large and diverse group of States working to preserve it,” Becerra said.
According to the press release, the ICWA was first enacted in 1978 as a response “to a history of culturally insensitive and ignorant removal of Indian children from their birth families.”
“This resulted in the separation of Indian children from not only their families, but their tribes and heritage as well,” the press release stated.
The ICWA’s purpose, according to the press release, is to “protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards” to be utilized in child welfare proceedings involving Native American children.
In this case, individual plaintiffs, along with the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge the law, the press release stated.
According to the press release, the district court for the Northern District of Texas agreed and struck down much of the ICWA on constitutional grounds in 2018.
The brief filed today by Becerra and 21 other attorneys general argues that the ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s broad authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection principles, the press release said.
“The brief also highlights ICWA’s important role in reducing disparities in child removal rates and improving the collaboration between states and tribes relating to their shared interest in improving the health and welfare of Native American children,” according to the attorney general’s press release.
The attorneys generals of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin joined Becerra in filing the brief, according to the press release.