Washington, DC – Today’s introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is expected to mark a significant step forward in the protection of unaccompanied children on the move according to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). The organization said the bill addresses counsel for unaccompanied children at the border and other reforms essential to ensuring a fair, humane, efficient, and effective immigration system.
“The United States is long overdue for an overhaul of our immigration system that is rooted in fairness, due process, and protection. The United States should also support policies that help people stay in their home countries safely and with opportunities for their future,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “The Biden Administration and Congress should work together to pass legislation that reflects these objectives, and the introduction of today’s bill is a key first step to that end.”
During the past four years, KIND has consistently decried the numerous barriers erected by the former Administration to block immigrants, and in particular unaccompanied children, from fair access to protections afforded under the nation’s immigration system. The organization is urging Congress and the Biden Administration to address these inhumane policies and other more historic immigration system challenges to restore order at the border and reaffirm the nation’s historic role as a leader in the protection of refugees.
Building on today’s legislation, KIND urges Congress to work with the Biden Administration to implement key immigration reforms, including recommendations contained in KIND’s BLUEPRINT: CONCRETE STEPS TO PROTECT UNACCOMAMPANIED CHILDREN ON THE MOVE. Specifically, KIND is urging leaders to:
- Ensure unaccompanied children are not unlawfully expelled from the border and are allowed a fair opportunity to ask for protection in the United States. Congress should work with the Biden Administration to ensure due process safeguards for unaccompanied children that provide them with a full opportunity for their cases to be heard with assistance from counsel.
- Dedicate increased resources for legal representation of unaccompanied children in U.S. immigration proceedings and support legislation ensuring counsel for all such children – a critical step towards a system in which no child faces complex and daunting proceedings alone.
- Commit to reestablishing and funding an in-country refugee program for children in northern Central America through which at-risk children in the region who qualify for protection can safely and quickly relocate to the United States.
- Reset foreign policy towards Central America and Mexico and increase foreign assistance to the region with a priority on development programs that target the root causes of child migration.
“Progress will not happen overnight, but it must happen, and it must include protections for children who come alone to the United States,” concluded Young. “These kids deserve a meaningful opportunity to stand with an attorney before an immigration judge to explain their case for protection. Otherwise, we risk returning these children to the harm and often life-threatening circumstances they fled.”
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