Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer, Bonamici, DeFazio, Schrader File Amicus Brief Supporting the Indian Child Welfare Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader filed an amicus brief in federal court making the case for the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a proven and effective way to keep Native children connected to their communities and cultures.   

The bipartisan brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit as the court re-opens its August ruling that affirmed ICWA’s constitutionality in Brackeen v. Bernhardt. The amicus brief urges the Fifth Circuit to uphold the court’s previous decision affirming the constitutionality of IWCA. The decision the Fifth Circuit issued in August reversed an unprecedented ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, which wrongly struck down ICWA as unconstitutional.

“The landmark Indian Child Welfare Act has signaled for more than four decades Congress’ willingness to right past wrongs against indigenous peoples, especially children,” Wyden said. “If this law is struck down in the courts, it will turn back the clock to a terrible time when the United States government ripped Native children from their families at alarming rates. I will stand up against this unconscionable policy reversal and always fight to keep families together and respect tribal sovereignty.” 

“Every child deserves to be safe, healthy, and connected with their community,” said Merkley. “For over 40 years, the Indian Child Welfare Act has been integral to our mission to make that vision a reality, by keeping Native families together and respecting the sovereignty of tribes. It couldn’t be more important that this law remains in full effect, and I’m committed to fighting alongside my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to make sure it is upheld by the courts.”

“The IWCA is essential to safeguarding the connection of Native children to their heritage,” said Representative Blumenauer. “Reversing this policy would not only jeopardize child welfare standards, but it would threaten tribal sovereignty. This is unacceptable. I will continue fighting to make sure that does not happen.”

“Congressional intent when passing the Indian Child Welfare Act was clear – Native children should not be separated from their families,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “I joined my colleagues on this amicus brief to demonstrate our support of Tribal sovereignty. We will continue working to protect the well-being of Native children and help Native communities overcome generations of historical injustices and trauma from forced assimilation policies.”

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is a vital piece of legislation for Native American families,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio. “It’s important to uphold and protect Tribal sovereignty and self-determination by ensuring Tribes have a say in determining what is in the best interest of Native children. I’m proud to be a part of the amicus brief asserting its constitutionality.” 

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the Oregon Delegation and our Tribes in the state by signing this amicus brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act. ICWA is a model child welfare program and an important part of our responsibility to legislate for the benefit of tribes and to preserve their tribal sovereignty and self-governance,” Schrader said.

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. 

A copy of the amicus brief, along with the full list of signers from both political parties, is available here.

A web version of this release is available here.