CWS Urges Senate to Oppose Amendments That Would Reduce Child Protection and Increase Child Statelessness

March 12, 2015

Dear Members of the United States Senate:

Church World Service, a humanitarian organization comprised of 37 member communions, strongly opposes two amendments that have been offered to the S.178, The Justice for Victims of Trafficking bill: Amendment 276 sponsored by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) and Amendment 274 sponsored by Senator Vitter (R-LA). CWS urges all Senators to reject these amendments and any similar legislation that would remove or reduce vital anti-trafficking protections or rewrite the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and introduce the devastating problem of child statelessness within the United States.

Amendment 276 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. It would roll back the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (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. 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 TVPRA was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2008. These protections are no less important to the children whose lives are saved by them every day, and should not be rolled back.

Amendment 274, which has also been introduced as S.45, The Birthright Citizenship Act, would rewrite the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, directly contradict U.S. and international law and overturn long-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The amendment would restrict birth citizenship to only three categories of people: children of U.S. citizens, children of permanent residents, and children of non-citizens in active-duty military service. Such policies do not deter individuals from immigrating or from having children, but they do cause devastating disparities and violate the human rights of vulnerable populations. This legislation would put children of asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, refugees, individuals who have fallen out of current immigration status and other vulnerable populations in legal limbo as “stateless persons” without citizenship to any country. Although born in the United States, these children would not have U.S. citizenship, and could be unable to claim citizenship from their parent’s home country since they fled their home due to persecution. Such travesties are seen in Europe due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and in other parts of the world – Thailand, Kuwait, Senegal – but generally not in the United States. In the last 25 years, more than 20 countries have made progress to prevent child statelessness by changing their birth registration and citizenship policies. Amendment 274 and The Birthright Citizenship Act, however, would send the United States back centuries, lowering the bar and harmfully contradicting the international push to end child statelessness. We cannot afford to take short-sighted unilateral actions that will have avalanche effects down the road. We must oppose this immoral, disappointing and extreme proposal.

While CWS supports S.178, as well as S.553, The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, which may also be considered as an amendment to S. 178, CWS will be strongly opposed to S.178 should these amendments be attached to the bill. The Inhofe and Vitter amendments have no place being attached to this legislation that would help survivors of human trafficking. It is an insult to S.178 and S.553 that the Inhofe and Vitter amendments have even been offered. CWS urges all Senators to reject both of these amendments 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 protect vulnerable children and celebrate the dignity of children and families. CWS believes in welcoming and loving the immigrants among us and urges the U.S. Senate to uphold these values in this important anti-trafficking bill.

Erol Kekic
Director, Immigration and Refugee Program
Church World Service