Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Trump Administration’s Systematic Assault on the Protection of Unaccompanied Children

May 16, 2018


Washington, DC — Since its first days, the Trump Administration has sought to limit protections for some of the most vulnerable migrants seeking protection in this country—unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children.  These protections, which were carefully crafted over nearly 15 years through bipartisan dialogue and collaboration in Congress, are grounded in basic child welfare principles. These procedural protections recognize that a child who has taken a life-threatening journey of hundreds, if not thousands, of miles—without a parent or legal guardian—is uniquely at-risk and should be treated in ways that help promote fundamental fairness in helping the child access the U.S. immigration system to ensure that we do not return a child to the often life-threatening harm they have fled.

Through a series of executive orders and published immigration priorities, the Administration has categorized unaccompanied children in need of protection as opportunistic, and laws designed to give these children a fair opportunity to have their stories heard by our legal system as “loopholes.” Since issuing these executive orders, the White House has also consistently supported legislative efforts that would undermine procedural protections for these children—as provided for by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), and the Flores Settlement Agreement—and limit children’s access to a fair judicial process.

Congress has so far not rolled back important legislative protections. Not finding legislative success, the Administration has instead turned to using its authority to implement policy changes that are dramatically undermining children’s ability to access our legal system.  On a surface level, these changes appear to make only small adjustments to existing procedures.  But taken as a whole, they represent a systematic assault on the ability of children to access the U.S. immigration system and assert claims for protection for which they may qualify under law.

Without question, these policy changes and those likely to come dramatically undermine the United States’ system of protection for immigrant and refugee children and fundamentally alter the identity of the United States as a global leader in the protection of the most vulnerable. Moreover, these policies decrease government efficiency and waste taxpayer dollars in unnecessary costs.

The cruel irony is that none of these polices address the root causes of why these children are fleeing to the United States in historic numbers. Until we do this in a meaningful way that prioritizes protection, children will continue to come, at greater risk to themselves, and we will very likely return those who do manage to cross our borders to harm after only a cursory review of their request for protection.

This ruthless and brutish targeting and treatment of these particularly vulnerable children is being done in the name of all Americans.

Click here to view and download the full report

Click here to see A Timeline: How the Trump Administration is Rolling Back Protections for Children


Media Contact: Megan McKenna,, 202-631-9990