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.
Immediately after taking office in January 2017, President Trump, through a series of executive orders and published immigration priorities, 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.”[i] 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. Based on the Administration’s own public statements and leaked drafts of forthcoming documents, the attacks on this vulnerable population will continue.