CWS Statement to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, pertaining to its hearing on Thursday, August 16, 2018 entitled Oversight of Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children from Human Trafficking and Abuse

August 16, 2018

CWS Statement to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, pertaining to its hearing on Thursday, August 16, 2018
entitled Oversight of Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children from Human Trafficking and Abuse

As a 72-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions and 22 refugee resettlement offices across the United States, Church World Service urges Senators to uphold our moral and legal obligations for vulnerable populations like asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. CWS affirms the right of individuals fleeing violence or persecution to seek safety and calls on Congress to recognize the importance of access to protection in the overall U.S. strategy to combat human trafficking.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides post-release case management services for some unaccompanied children to ensure they are released to suitable caregivers. However, due to historic underfunding, ORR’s existing resources have been overwhelmed, even before the steep increase in unaccompanied children in 2014.[1] As these services reach only a small fraction of children who are eligible to receive them, robust funding is critical so that all unaccompanied children have access to post-release case management services. We call on Congress to ensure ORR is funded to protect all children’s safety, and to provide ORR with contingency funds so that in times of unanticipated arrivals, ORR can adequately provide the full continuum of care. In addition, Congress should require ORR to report on the post-release services provided to children and families.

CWS remains deeply concerned about policies that have caused family separation at ports of entry and between ports of entry, including of asylum seekers, as well as policies that detain and prosecute parents for migration-related offenses. Tearing children away from their parents, absent a documented child protection concern, is unconscionable. Equally troubling is the inhumane and cruel expansion of family incarceration, which is inhumane, immoral, and wrought with abuse and life-threatening, inadequate access to medical care, including for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and others with serious medical conditions. Reports have documented guards using the threat of family separation as a method of discipline, as well as children experiencing signs of psychological and physical trauma. The American Association of Pediatrics found that family detention facilities do not meet the basic standards for the care of children in residential settings and “no child should be in detention centers or separated from parents.” Similar policies of detaining asylum-seeking families to deter their migration have already been found by a U.S. court to violate U.S. law.

The search for protection is not a crime; the United States has legal obligations under international[2] and U.S.[3] law to ensure that individuals seeking protection are not returned to those who seek to exploit them. Existing U.S. asylum law provides a rigid system to safeguard U.S. national security, subjecting asylum seekers, who are often placed in detention, to mandatory biographic and biometric checks reviewed against various federal databases by well-trained fraud detection officers.[4] In addition, the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) provides important procedural protections for unaccompanied children as they navigate the complex immigration process in order to accurately determine if they are eligible for protection.[5] Weakening legal protections would undermine the U.S. government’s moral authority as a leader in combating trafficking, and would increase vulnerabilities for trafficking victims by curtailing access to due process, legal representation, and child-appropriate services.

CWS urges Senators to reject S.3093, the “Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act,” and any other proposal that would detain children and parents indefinitely and allow border patrol agents to separate children from their parents and refuse asylum claims. The Flores Settlement, which mandates that children are kept in the least restrictive conditions possible, is an important standard that must be upheld. Family incarceration is not a solution to family separation. Non-restrictive, community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs) are the most appropriate response for families, children, and asylum seekers and are proven to be effective and less expensive than detention. The Family Case Management Program (FCMP), has been 99 percent effective in having families show up for check-ins and court appearances, and, at a cost of only $36 per day per family, is far cheaper than detention, which costs over $300 per person per day. While the Trump administration  has terminated this program, CWS calls on the Committee to direct the administration to restore the FCMP.

CWS urges the Committee to ensure that the administration immediately end its “zero tolerance” policy, urges all Senators to prioritize the protection of children who are seeking safety, and is committed to working with Congress and the administration to develop sustainable solutions for the protection of vulnerable populations.

[1] Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, At the Crossroads for Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Policy, Practice, & Protection. July 2015. <>.

[2] The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 3, 6 and 22.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14.

United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII).

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, A Framework for the Protection of Children and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

[3]U.S. Code Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse, Chapter 78: Trafficking Victims Protection; and U.S. Code Title 8: Aliens and Nationality, Chapter 12: Immigration and Nationality, Section 1158: Asylum.

[4] DHS Office of Inspector General, Streamline: Measuring Its Effect on Illegal Border Crossing, OIG-15-95, 15 May 2015.

[5]William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) § 235. <>.