U.S. House members led by Representative John Carter are advancing legislation that would exile migrant children to destruction and death. Using the cynical misnomer the Protection of Children Act (H.R. 495), this bill seeks to eliminate the basic child welfare protections currently afforded to migrant children who arrive at our borders, alone, seeking safety in the United States. The bill is the Trump administration’s latest show of disdain for basic rights for the most vulnerable, and is a shocking abdication of fundamental and bipartisan American values. The National Immigrant Justice Center today released a policy brief calling on Congress and the White House to immediately retreat from policy proposals that amount to sheer cruelty toward children.
Under Rep. Carter’s bill, Department of Homeland Security agents would have the power to quickly deport any unaccompanied child arriving on our southern border unless the child is able to “effectively articulate” to the officer that he or she fears persecution or is a victim of human trafficking. Border Patrol and ICE agents are law enforcement officers, not child welfare professionals. Children fleeing trauma and violence are rarely able or willing to express their deepest fears to armed and uniformed officers – a basic truth that is obvious to nearly anyone who has ever loved a child. Rep. Carter’s proposal would therefore guarantee that young children are returned to life-threatening violence.
Beyond these impossible screening hurdles, H.R. 495 would systematically dismantle the existing network of protections for unaccompanied immigrant children. The law would force children into court almost immediately, without lawyers, to plead their cases for protection; authorize Border Patrol to keep children in border holding cells for an entire month; and order the deportation of any undocumented adult who has given an unaccompanied child shelter since 2012.
NIJC client Natalie (pseudonym) suffered years of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of a family member in her country of birth before fleeing to seek refuge in the United States. Her story demonstrates the critical need to maintain, not eliminate, legal protections for immigrant children. At the age of 12, Natalie journeyed to the United States and spent months in government custody before being reunified with her mother. Deeply traumatized, Natalie was not able to articulate to Border Patrol or other officials the reasons for her flight. Only after reuniting with her mother and learning to feel safe in her surroundings did Natalie reveal why she had fled her country. Natalie was ultimately granted asylum, protection that would have been denied her without the critical legal safeguards that gave her the time and support she needed to tell her story and prepare her asylum application.
NIJC urges members of the House Judiciary Committee to reject H.R. 495 and ensure the protection of all children, regardless of country of origin or immigration status. NIJC also condemns the parallel executive actions taken by the Trump administration to enact many of the same harmful policies proposed by Rep. Carter.