Washington, DC – Today in response to Border Patrol COVID-19 guidance that substantiates reports of agents turning away immigrants seeking safety in the United States, including unaccompanied children, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) President Wendy Young issued the following statement:
“It is shameful amid a global pandemic this administration has turned its back on some of the most vulnerable people in the world, unaccompanied children. The CBP memo providing guidance to agents and officers on implementing the CDC order makes clear that Border Patrol is expelling vulnerable refugees without fair consideration of their protection claims and likely subjecting unaccompanied kids to incredible risk of harm. Not only does this order deny them access to legal protections, it leaves children vulnerable to the very real danger of being handed over to human traffickers ready to exploit them. For an administration that prides itself on being a leader in the fight against human trafficking, it issued guidance that effectively authorizes border agents to push children directly in to the hands of unscrupulous adults This lawless approach defies Congressional will, the United States’ binding legal commitments to protect children, and America’s longstanding tradition of helping kids in danger. We do not have to choose between protecting the health of Americans and protecting unaccompanied kids at the border who are fleeing violence and persecution. The administration should immediately rescind this guidance and reinstitute existing policies to protect unaccompanied kids. It should also provide necessary medical screenings at the border and process these children in a way that can identify kids who may be sick, as well as limit their potential exposure to COVID-19.”
KIND today noted that unaccompanied children are among the world’s most vulnerable populations. These are boys and girls, many under the age of 12, fleeing mortal persecution. In recognition of their unique vulnerabilities—and of U.S. laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, that prescribe specific due process protections for unaccompanied children – other restrictive immigration policies implemented by the Trump Administration rightfully have often exempted such youth. The response to COVID-19 should also protect these vulnerable children. The CDC order explicitly states DHS may consider exceptions to the border closure.
Pursuant to law, the Administration must immediately issue new guidance making UACs exempt to the CDC order so that children may be safely screened by medical professionals and processed for protection concerns. By turning away unaccompanied children at the southern border, the United States is defying its binding commitments and rejecting lawfulness precisely when we need it most.
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