Since October 2013, an estimated 63,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border, the majority of whom are fleeing rampant violence and poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. [i] This number has more than doubled since last year. We must leverage emergency resources both to care for children and provide them access to appropriate legal services. Prior to leaving for the August Recess, the House passed H.R. 5230, which would only minimally fund the care of children and take away the protections afforded these children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA).
|Daily, children like these are apprehended by Border Patrol. Photo source: AP|
Now that Congress is back in session, the Senate may vote on H.R. 5230. Weakening the protections of the TVPRA in exchange for new resources is a false choice, especially when many of these resources further militarize the border. Instead, we must uphold the law that grants migrant children access to social services and legal counsel.
Tell the Senate to support funding to care for unaccompanied children, while opposing H.R. 5230 and any other legislation that would weaken the protections for unaccompanied children provided by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA)
Background on the TVPRA:
The TVPRA, passed in 2000, provides certain protections to unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. from noncontiguous countries. Under the TVPRA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), rather than Homeland Security, has custody of the child. HHS is required to place the child according to his or her best interests, which often means a family placement. A child is then screened for his or her claim to humanitarian protection in a safe setting by persons trained to interview children.
Under H.R. 5230, a child would remain in detention and immigration officers, not trained social workers, would question him or her about trauma and possible humanitarian claims. Moreover, this bill requires a child to have a deportation hearing within fourteen days, giving him or her no time to prepare a case or get access to attorney. If this bill becomes law, children will not be afforded meaningful hearings and they will be deported back to danger, exploitation and death. One youth was shot dead hours after being deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras . [ii]
We must oppose changes in the law that would weaken the protections given to unaccompanied children. In addition, we must support additional funding to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border. Before leaving for August Recess, the House of Representatives voted on a supplemental funding bill that beefs up border security instead of supporting the agencies most in need of additional funding—the ones that are providing for the basic needs of children who are fleeing widespread violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
God calls us as Christians to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor. Central American families, our neighbors to the South, are showing up at our border, seeking refuge from great harm. We have yet to act to protect them.
The 217th General Assembly of the PC(USA), in a renewal of our call to love our neighbor, stated, “We affirm the PC(USA)’s commitment to providing sanctuary to anyone in need of safe space, food or shelter.” Keeping the Trafficking Victims Protection Act intact and funding agencies that meet the needs of these children are important ways to do this.
[i] "Children at the Border" http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/15/us/questions-about-the-border-kids.html?_r=0
[ii] “In Honduras, U.S. Deportees Seek to Journey North Again, LA Times” : http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-honduras-deported-youths-20140816-story.html