By Keith Rushing
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today, Appleseed and Mexico Appleseed release a groundbreaking report that identifies substantial noncompliance with federal law regarding the treatment of Mexican children who are detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border when unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
The report, “Children at the Border: The Screening, Protection and Repatriation of Unaccompanied Mexican Minors,” produced by Appleseed and Mexico Appleseed, shows, among other issues, that a 2008 federal law intended to prevent human trafficking and exploitation has not been fully implemented or complied with, allowing the rights of unaccompanied Mexican children to be routinely violated. As a result, thousands of children are needlessly being exposed to human trafficking by drug cartels and criminal gangs and being repatriated to potentially abusive and dangerous situations without having a reasonable chance to assert their rights.
More than 15,000 unaccompanied children cross the U.S. border with Mexico annually. Although many are in search of economic opportunities or trying to reunite with family members, some are seeking to escape violence, abuse, or neglect; or are being trafficked for sex or forced labor. Some are at high risk of becoming trafficking victims upon being returned to Mexico.
In December 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 ( the TVPRA) to protect unaccompanied minors against human trafficking and exploitation and to help put an end to the “revolving door” policy that caused many to be repatriated to dangerous situations and environments.
Despite the passage of the TVPRA and policy reforms in both the United States and Mexico, our research finds that the “revolving door” that has existed at the border for years – through which children are routinely, immediately sent back without any meaningful scrutiny of their individual circumstances or determination as to whether they will be safely repatriated – is still the norm today.
Under the TVPRA law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must interview each minor who crosses the border without parents or legal guardians to ensure that these children are not at risk of being trafficked; have no possible claims to asylum; and can and do voluntarily agree to return home.
Appleseed’s investigation reveals that unaccompanied minors are routinely misinformed about their rights to make an asylum claim and appear before a judge. In addition, the TVPRA screenings are not being conducted in a manner or in environments that would indicate whether the minor is a potential victim of trafficking or abuse. The manner of interviewing minors doesn’t allow them to make a truly “voluntary” choice about whether to return to Mexico.
Appleseed’s recommendations, if implemented, would significantly reduce the risks these children face. Key problems Appleseed recommends addressing include the following:
- DHS, which is managing the handling of these minors, has given Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the primary responsibility for interviewing these children and determining whether they are victims of abuse or trafficking. But CBP officers receive no mandatory training for handling unaccompanied minors, which is not in accordance with the requirements of the TVPRA. In addition, CBP officers do not have child welfare expertise and generally interview the children in cells and in open areas of detention centers where they may be in full view of traffickers.
- Appleseed and Mexico Appleseed are calling on DHS to give responsibility for determining the status of these juveniles to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS already handles asylum applications for all unaccompanied children and has experience handling child welfare cases. USCIS is overseen by DHS and thus DHS can make this change happen.
All Appleseed’s findings and recommendations are detailed in “Children at the Border,” available at: www.appleseednetwork.org.
The report and recommendations for reform follows two years of research by a pro bono team of 32 lawyers. The project involved site visits at 14 different locations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The partnership was a unique collaboration with pro bono legal counsel from four leading law firms: Akin Gump, Mayer Brown, DLA Piper in the U.S.; and Jauregui, Navarrete y Nader S.C. in Mexico.