For immediate release, contact: Megan McKenna
April 16, 2020
Signers warn the practice places kids’ lives in grave danger, increases trafficking risk, violates law
Washington, DC – Today, 79 organizations and academic institutions urged U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield to immediately end the expulsions of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. southern border. The letter notes that these removals carried out by DHS and rooted in guidance from the CDC put the kids’ lives in grave danger, including at the hands of human traffickers, and violate laws passed on a sweeping bipartisan basis.
Led by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), the widely supported sign-on letter said the federal government’s expulsions, while carried out under the guise of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, “do nothing to protect public health and safety, violate the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), run counter to domestic and international law ensuring the right to seek asylum, and place vulnerable unaccompanied children at immediate risk of human trafficking and other harm.”
On March 20, the CDC directed DHS to suspend entry of certain individuals at the U.S. southern border. Four days later, DHS barred entry at U.S. southern border ports of entry except for persons engaged in “essential travel.” The stated rationale of these CDC and DHS orders was to prevent spread of COVID-19. Neither of these directives exempted unaccompanied children from the entry restrictions Although DHS authorized U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify additional groups engaged in “essential travel,” CBP has failed to apply that designation to unaccompanied children. The consequences for these kids have been dire.
“Media reports confirm what these orders and guidance indicate—that DHS is now expelling unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. southern border. Specifically, DHS appears to be summarily returning these children without proper screenings, placement into immigration court proceedings, or referrals to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Reports suggest that, as of April 8, DHS may already have expelled over 350 unaccompanied children. On at least one recent day, CBP failed to refer any unaccompanied children to ORR,” wrote the groups.
Unaccompanied children comprise one of the world’s most vulnerable groups. They range in age from toddlers to teenagers. Most flee to the United States to escape dangers including extreme violence and sexual exploitation. Many of them face continuing trauma upon arrival. Their age, developmental stage, and trauma history hinder their ability to navigate the complex U.S. immigration system and access potentially life-saving relief.
To prevent their unjust return and protect these children from trafficking, and in recognition of their unique vulnerabilities, Congress provided unaccompanied children special legal protections under the TVPRA. The law mandates that the U.S. government screen these children to determine whether they are at risk of trafficking or fear return to their home countries. It also requires that DHS transfer unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico to the care and custody of the ORR and place them into full immigration court proceedings. If unaccompanied children from Mexico express a fear of return or appear to be at risk of trafficking, those children must also be transferred to ORR.
The CDC and DHS should modify their orders to exempt unaccompanied children and asylum seekers from the entry restrictions. These actions would help align the U.S. government’s policies and practices with the TVPRA’s legal requirements and help prevent vulnerable kids from being returned to the hands of human traffickers and other sources of harm.
The signers of today’s letter concluded their request by stating, “Every day that these expulsions continue, returned children face the risk of trafficking, violence, and death. The United States must not turn its back on these children or our laws upon which their lives depend.”
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For more information, please contact Megan McKenna at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-631-9990.
Organizational Sign-on Letter Re: Expulsions of Unaccompanied Children: https://supportkind.org/resources/organizational-sign-on-letter-re-expulsions-of-unaccompanied-children/