Unaccompanied Children Deserve Protection in U.S. Policy
For Release: July 7, 2015
Washington, DC— Today’s Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearing on the response to unaccompanied minors one year later is an important reminder of the vulnerabilities of these children, said the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST). ATEST calls on the Committee to support these youth and oppose any polices that would weaken the protection and services available to child victims of human trafficking.
“Protecting children and their families should be front and center in any discussion of this crisis,” said Melysa Sperber, Director of ATEST. “These kids are fleeing circumstances of extreme violence on par with the worst war zones. We have to ensure we do not make the situation worse by stripping protections that safeguard these children’s fundamental human rights to due process, legal representation, and child-appropriate services.”
ATEST calls on Congress to recognize that the threat we face is not the children fleeing violence from their home countries and seeking refuge here; it is the United States’ loss of credibility and moral standing if we fail to provide basic legal protections and deport children who may be deserving of relief as refugees and trafficking survivors.
Specifically, ATEST opposes any attempt to amend or eliminate section 235 of the TVPRA, which provides important procedural protections for unaccompanied children navigating the complex immigration process to determine if they are eligible for any existing immigration relief as victims of trafficking or persecution.
“ATEST members working in the countries the children and their families are coming from report harrowing conditions: a widespread climate of impunity, high rates of corruption and public mismanagement, and escalating rates of violence in the streets and at home. The life-saving impact of the policies that currently exist to protect as human trafficking survivors, refugees, and unaccompanied children cannot be understated,” said Sperber. “They are important and must stay in place.”
ATEST provided the following recommendations to policymakers at today’s hearing:
- Don’t change the TVPRA. Blaming existing law for the UAC crisis is illogical, as these protections have been in effect for six years. Significant increases in UACs entering the United States began only three years ago, as violence escalated in many of the children’s home countries. If that law were to blame, UACs would be coming from all countries, while in reality they are coming primarily from countries where violence is taking place.
- Recognize that UACs are at risk of being trafficked. The increased vulnerability of unaccompanied children was why the provisions in the legislation existed and why the TVPRA’s protections should continue. The protections do not grant amnesty; rather they ensure that basic human rights are met.
- The U.S. Government should ensure all unaccompanied children are afforded basic legal protections. Even though numbers of UAC’s have dropped considerably, from initial screening to the final stages of release or removal, the United States has a responsibility to protect any child’s most fundamental rights not to be exploited or persecuted. And U.S. Government efforts should not stop there. They need to address the root causes of the crisis, including violence, lawlessness, and persecution in the home countries.
- Show the world that the U.S. Government is a leader in the fight against human trafficking. The U.S. response to this crisis puts the country at risk of losing the moral authority to ask other nations to strengthen efforts to identify and protect trafficked and persecuted children.
To learn more, read ATEST’s statement for the record, here.
The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) is a U.S. based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. ATEST member organizations include: Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, ECPAT-USA, Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence, International Justice Mission, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Network for Youth, Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, Verité, Vital Voices Global Partnership, and World Vision. ATEST is a project of Humanity United.