Hire child welfare professionals to administer screenings and care for children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody: Children are held at the U.S.-Mexico border in CBP facilities that are unsuited for children’s unique needs. By deploying state-licensed child welfare professionals to the border to administer screenings and care for children in CBP facilities – as Congress has directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to do — DHS can strengthen those children’s safety and welfare while enabling CBP agents and officers to better dedicate their time to vital law enforcement functions.
Co-locate specialists from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in CBP border facilities: Children who are separated from non-parental family members at the border fall under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) until a decision is made whether to grant those relatives custody. By expanding the co-location of ORR specialists who can immediately commence the family reunification process in CBP custody, the administration can reduce the length of children’s separation from loving family members, while at the same time ensuring that such releases are in the best interests of the child.
Undertake broader reforms to create a humanitarian reception model: Engaging nongovernmental humanitarian actors can better ensure the appropriate reception, screening, and care of migrant children received at the border. DHS’ engagement with the American Red Cross and deployment of FEMA to assist with reception during a period of significant border arrivals in 2021 illustrates the value of this model.
Expand legal representation of unaccompanied children: In recent years, Congress has increased funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s provision of legal representation to unaccompanied children. It is vital that the Administration allocate this funding as Congress intended. Legal counsel enhances the immigration court system’s efficiency while helping ensure due process for vulnerable children.
Enhance bilateral coordination between U.S. and Mexican officials to ensure the safe transfer of unaccompanied children to the United States when it is in their best interests: U.S. and Mexico government officials must expand formal mechanisms to assist migrant children in Mexico looking to reunite with family members in the United States in cases when it is in the best interests of the child to do so. Such procedures have been implemented on a limited basis in recent years and have proven successful in efficiently processing at-risk children.
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