By Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic
Native American children are being deprived of equal protection when it comes to foster care and adoptions because federal law places tribal supremacy ahead of the children’s best interests, a class-action lawsuit filed today alleges.
The suit, filed by the Goldwater Institute in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, challenges portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act as it applies to Native American children living off-reservation.
The suit details the cases of two Arizona families, each of which sought to adopt a child with Native American heritage only to have their plans held by the provisions of the 37-year-old federal law.
“Alone among American children, their adoption and foster care placements are determined not in accord with their best interests but by their ethnicity, as a result of a well-intentioned but profoundly flawed and unconstitutional federal law, the Indian Child Welfare Act,” the suit states.
It names as defendants the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the state Department of Child Safety.
Federal officials did not have an immediate response.
Arizona Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay is named in the suit because his agency has to follow the provisions of the federal law. The agency said it would not comment until the case is resolved.
The suit noted 1,336 Native American children were in out-of-home placements as of last September, citing the latest DCS data. If not for the federal law, the suit alleges, some of those children could be in permanent family situations.
The lawsuit does not involve Native American children living on reservation, where tribal courts have jurisdiction