The political rhetoric surrounding the current humanitarian crisis at our southern border has been mounting in recent weeks, and among it has been the proposal to roll back the legislative provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) which protect and provide due process for recently migrated unaccompanied children.
In collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and numerous other Catholic organizations, the Columban Center co-sponsored a Congressional briefing on July 18 to discuss the importance of preserving the TVPRA and its 235th section, which enhances efforts to combat the trafficking of children.
Each presenter offered a unique perspective on the provisions of the TVPRA and why they should not be changed.
Michael Hill, Associate Director of Government Relations for the USCCB, described the specific provisions laid out by the TVPRA which protect immigrant children, such as mandatory screening procedures, care facility requirements, and repatriation mandates. One of the proposals currently being discussed by legislators is to eliminate the procedural distinction between children who come from countries that are contiguous with the United States, such as Mexico, and those that are disconnected, such as countries in Central America. Mexican children have a much faster track to deportation: when they come into the custody of Border Control, they are screened for refugee status claims or evidence of human trafficking, and face faster, almost immediate, deportation. Children from Central America or any other country disconnected with the United States have a longer route to possible deportation: a path that includes care from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and due process of law. Eliminating the distinction would take away the necessary care and due process from thousands of children who are escaping violence from Central America.
Kristyn Peck, Associate Director of Children’s Services at the Migration and Refugee Services Department of the USCCB, detailed the psychological and mental health needs of the children who have experienced violence and danger. Most come from incredibly violent situations in their homes, where they undergo daily trauma, and most have journeyed thousands of miles through threatening experiences with human smugglers, cartels, and criminals where they face further psychological damage. In addition to having their basic needs met, the children need therapists and social workers whom they can trust in order to heal psychologically. TVPRA provisions, even though they don’t always become reality, recognize this.
Michelle Mendez, Senior Managing Attorney of Catholic Charities at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., provided a legal perspective, detailing the reality most children face, which is the absence of legal representation altogether. Due to financial and time-related reasons, even when they receive due process and a court date, kids simply cannot find a lawyer to represent them in proceedings. Children, most under the age of 12, are forced to represent themselves when their lives are on the line – safety in the United States is usually unreachable without any legal guidance or knowledge of U.S. culture and law, meaning they will most likely be returned to their dangerous situations at home.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is vital in ensuring the protection and care of migrant children, who face incredibly violent and traumatizing situations in their trek to the United States and in their very homes, and must be preserved as a necessary piece of legislation.