Photo: Children crossing the border alone at risk, lawto protect them not working
The Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 was designed to help the vulnerable Mexican children sent across the U.S.-Mexico border alone, but advocates on both sides of the border say the law is not being implemented well.
The two-year-old law calls for Mexican children who cross the border by themselves to be returned to their country only after officers make sure they are not human trafficking victims, cannot claim asylum, or once the child volunteers to return home rather than be detained in a shelter.
Before the law, many were worried that the children were being returned to Mexico without being properly questioned about the circumstances of their travel, which many refer to as a “revolving door.”
Central American children and those from other countries are usually sent to shelters since their countries do not border the U.S.
David Nachman, an attorney with DLA Piper told the Associated Press, “These children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They have traveled long distances for purposes of trafficking, many of them will be trafficked en route …” Adding, that “the revolving door that had so long existed at the border for these vulnerable children is still spinning today.”
In the last two years, about 30,000 to 32,000 Mexican children were caught crossing the border.
The report from which these numbers were taken is from a report from Appleseed and Mexican Appleseed, groups that are made up of more than 16 groups in the U.S. and Mexico.
Advocates point out that the form used when questioning the children does not clearly explain that the children will be detained at a shelter for children, and not at a jail or immigration detention facility.
The report criticizes Mexican officials who they claim are too quick to begin the return process for the children, and who they also say don’t take the time to question the children about possible abuse and/or their reason for traveling alone.
“Pause and think about what it takes for a 15-, a 16-, a 17-year-old kid to decide to leave home and travel over 1,000 miles through unknown territory and to cross a hostile border,” Nachman said. “You know that kid isn’t doing it lightly and in some cases at least is running away from very difficult circumstances within the home and within the community.”
Appleseed wrote the following:
Among Appleseed’s primary recommendations is for DHS to give the responsibility for screening unaccompanied minors to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which already handles asylum applications for all unaccompanied children and has experience in handling child welfare matters.
Steven Schulman, Akin Gump’s Pro Bono Partner who helped lead the pro bono team working on the project, spoke about what the completion of “Children at the Border” means to him. “I’m very pleased that we can share our findings in this report,” he said. “But the hard work is ahead of
us. We must succeed in advocating for the reforms so that these vulnerable children get the protections from abuse and being targeted by drug dealers, coyotes and operators of prostitution rings that Congress intended when it passed the TVPRA.”