Secure the Northern Triangle Act Big Step Toward Increasing Regional and U.S. Protection of Unaccompanied Children

by KIND Press Release   on July 14, 2016

KIND supports the Secure the Northern Triangle Act as introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Eliot Engel—a bill designed to create a coordinated regional response to better protect refugees and asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. KIND applauds the sponsors for including the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which provides counsel for unaccompanied children, and authorizes 55 additional immigration judges to reduce the existing immigration court backlog.

The Secure the Northern Triangle Act addresses a myriad of protection concerns for refugee children and families and provides solutions in the U.S., Central America, and Mexico,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “The result of this comprehensive approach rooted in refugee protection will be a more orderly flow of refugees with meaningful access to protections in the U.S., Mexico, and other countries.”

This bill envisions the U.S. working with international partners, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to support and provide technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of Mexico and other countries in the region to provide asylum to eligible children and families. Currently, refugees from the region are at significant risk because the countries that many refugee children flee or travel through lack a robust asylum system to adjudicate their protection claims. Only 18 children were granted asylum in Mexico in 2014. In 2015, the Mexican Refugee Agency had only 15 officers who were qualified to make refugee status determinations.

The bill also expands two important programs in the region. First, it would enhance the capacity of the Central American Minors (CAM) program by requiring the hiring of additional refugee officers for in-country processing and adding new processing locations. Second, the bill envisages the U.S. coordinating with UNHCR to support and provide technical assistance to the Mexican government and other governments in the region to increase access to resettlement.

KIND is particularly pleased that the House bill includes mandatory training for prosecutors, judges, and police on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues as a condition for U.S. assistance. KIND also welcomes the requirement that best interest determinations be conducted on children before they are repatriated to ensure that return is in their best interests, and that child appropriate reintegration procedures for kids who are returned be developed.

In addition, this bill provides improvements domestically.  It enhances protection for children reunified with sponsors following release from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services detention facility. Moreover, the bill strengthens screening and follow-up mechanisms to ensure the children’s safety and access to due process.  By including the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, unaccompanied children will be guaranteed counsel, and the adjudication backlogs will be reduced with the increase of 55 immigration judges for the next two years.  Finally, this bill helps eradicate barriers unaccompanied children face in accessing education by providing funding to school districts with 50 or more unaccompanied children.

“This bill charts a path forward that will help ensure the safety of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who need a safe haven from the brutal violence in their countries and furthers the United States’ leadership in the protection of the most vulnerable. KIND thanks Representatives Lofgren and Engel for their outstanding vision on these issues,” Young said.

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