Church World Service, a humanitarian organization comprised of 37 member communions, strongly opposes The Protection of Children Act introduced by Representative John Carter (R-TX-31) and The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3) and Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA 6). These bills would narrow protections for children fleeing violence and would result in many being returned back into the hands of traffickers and others who seek to exploit them. CWS encourages members of the committee to reject these bills and any similar legislation that would remove or reduce vital protections in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2008.
The Protection of Children Act would roll back the TVPRA by allowing unaccompanied children to be deported after a cursory screening with a border patrol agent, which would result in children being returned back into the hands of traffickers and others who seek to exploit them. Border Patrol agents lack the resources and training on child welfare, trauma, abuse, and sexual assault to conduct the appropriate screenings to interview children. It is not appropriate for border patrol officers to interview children who have been victimized by military and police who are working in collusion with gangs in the Northern Triangle and thus will fear officials in uniform. Instead, children should be interviewed by child welfare specialists, as is the case currently. This bill would also mandate that children go to trial within 7 days of their initial screening, which would make it nearly impossible for children to find a pro-bono attorney and develop trust with them enough to share their traumatic story, and for the attorney to develop an adequate case for the child. Providing additional resources to immigration courts to evaluate whether children are victims of trafficking or persecution, rather than rolling back protections, would create a more timely and fair system without creating unnecessary hurdles that could result in summarily sending children back to be killed or exploited.
The bill would also require the Office of Refugee Resettlement to report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the immigration status of family members providing care for unaccompanied children, which would put some families in the impossible situation of leaving their children with strangers or placing themselves at the risk of deportation. Children would have to remain in detention throughout a lengthy asylum application process. Detention is unsafe and unfit for the unique needs of children, and is unnecessary. Data from Syracuse Universityshows that 79.5% of children released to a relative are showing up for court – and even more – 95.1% are showing up when they have a lawyer. Likewise, this legislation would make any affiliation with a gang or gang member, including forced recruitment or support, result in a bar to their entrance into the United States. This policy is particularly detrimental to children fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle region who are at risk of forced recruitment.
The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act contains the same harmful provisions as the Protection of Children Act, and would also restrict access to asylum, increase the use of immigration detention, deny humanitarian parole to those denied refugee status, and restrict the definitions of parole, special immigrant juvenile status and unaccompanied children to deny access to many vulnerable individuals with meritorious claims who would suffer detention or unsafe deportation.
These two pieces of legislation would undermine the current U.S. asylum system, the naturalization process, and the protection of unaccompanied children fleeing violence. The bills would prevent unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers from being properly screened and would result in their return to dangerous and life-threatening situations, in violation of both U.S. and international law. Rather than improving our broken immigration system, these bills would take our nation backward and would put lives at risk. CWS urges all members of the committee and the House of Representatives at large to reject these negative proposals and to instead affirm support for the protection of persecuted individuals. CWS is committed to working with all members of both the House and Senate to support policies that unite families; strengthen migrant and refugee communities by treating all persons with dignity and respect. CWS believes in welcoming and loving the immigrants among us and urges the House Judiciary Committee to uphold these values in federal policy.