Protect. Don’t Punish.
Maria* was 12 years old when she was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a home where she was held captive. She was beaten and raped on an almost daily basis and eventually forced into prostitution. Because of this she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl while held in slavery. Maria fled with her baby to America, riding on top of trains, so that they might escape the sexual bondage.1
Sadly, Maria is not alone — many unaccompanied children flee to the US every year with nowhere else to turn. Escalating violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has led to more than 52,000 children being apprehended at our borders.2
These unaccompanied children are also at risk of being trafficked, which is why legal provisions in place since 2008 ensure these children are afforded basic legal advice and access to support. Children like Maria clearly need protection, care, and rehabilitation: yet a new proposal would see them stripped of their rights and turned away at our borders.
Changes to the TVPRA would jeopardize the lives of children seeking safety in the United States. Undermining the law is not the right answer. The cost of pushing vulnerable children back into dangerous or deadly situations is simply too high.
Congress has introduced legislation that would deport children to their home countries without meaningful screening. Sending these children back to extreme violence is an effective death sentence. The U.S. has the responsibility to protect these children from murder, rape, and human trafficking.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 is the law that strengthens protections for unaccompanied children and ensures these kids are afforded basic legal safeguards. It does not provide additional immigration benefits — merely sufficient time and process to identify children already entitled to relief.
Act now to keep the TVPRA in tact and ensure children get the care they deserve.
It’s these protections that are under threat. As Senate Majority Leader, Senator Reid has the power to make sure that protections for these vulnerable children remain in place and that kids like Maria continue to have access to the care they deserve.
Maria was identified as a child trafficking victim because she was not immediately deported. She was identified because of the TVPRA and has gone on to graduate high school and do well. Trafficked children need time and trained child welfare professionals to identify them and advocate for their relief.
Alex Monroe, Walk Free & Melysa Sperber, ATEST
*Maria is not her real name.