Children's Rights

New Senate Bill On Immigration Will Only Harm - Not Protect - Children

Senator Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last week advanced S. 1494 the Secure and Protect Act of 2019.  This legislation is without question, one of the harshest and cruelest anti-asylum bills ever drafted, not to mention, advanced through either chamber of Congress - though it did advance out of the Committee by breaking precedent. 

If enacted, S. 1494 would allow for indefinite detention of immigrant children and would also allow for a child’s swift removal to a dangerous country where they are highly at risk for human trafficking.  Under this bill, unaccompanied minors who have already faced horrors, escaped a dangerous country and migrated hundreds of miles will be met with sham courts that use deterrence rather than child protection as their standard.

But children should be allowed to have their cases to be heard based on the merits, with proper representation and without predetermined outcomes or statutory red tape.  Senator Graham’s irresponsible and cruel legislation would immediately halt any Central American seeking asylum from ever reaching the United States. For those already here, the bill would mean almost certain removal of both unaccompanied and accompanied minors.

The United States often takes a public stance against human trafficking, and proclaims its intent to protect children from trafficking, including in the most recent State Department Trafficking in Persons report. This bill is contrary to the values and ideals laid out in that report.   

Refugees seeking asylum should be able to present their case to an American Immigration Court.  Creating a new rule-set for Central American refugees is beyond abhorrent – it is rightfully condemned by all those who seek to stop traffickers of children. 

ECPAT-USA joins with the dozens of like-minded NGOs and millions of other Americans to call upon Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to ensure that this bill never gets close to passage and to stop this horrific assault on unaccompanied children, asylum seekers, and refugees.

State Department Report Cites Trafficking Dangers of Family Separation

The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report last Thursday, warning governments about the dangers of separating families and institutionalizing children. Within the past three months, 2,300 migrant families have been separated at the U.S.- Mexico border, leaving vulnerable children at a greater risk of human trafficking.

“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report reads. These institutions, it states, cannot provide the emotional and psychological support these children would get in an intact familial situation.

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

The TIP Report’s warning against child institutionalization echoes an earlier statement from Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA: “Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control...When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.” She also said that separation from parents can lead to greater risks later on including mental health issues, namely trauma, “[making] them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them.”

The TIP Report also states that children leaving or aging out of these institutions do not escape the dangers. “The vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered.” Being in a family allows children to “experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills.” Without the ability to develop these social, emotional, and psychological skills, these children and young adults continue to be susceptible to traffickers.

The immigration policy widely referred to as the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented in April, sending minors to government run facilities while they awaited the prosecution of their parents and guardians. Though the policy was ended June 20th, 2,047 children remain in the facilities.  

“What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy,” said Ms. Smolenski. “It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?)”.

More Information

View the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, in particular the section on Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking.

Read our Executive Director’s statement on the torture of children at the United States border.