The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill June 21 that the ABA maintains would strip critical legal and other protections from unaccompanied immigrant children and undermine the fairness and integrity of the immigration system.
Even though the bill, H.R. 495, is titled the Protection of Children Act, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote to the committee June 14 that its provisions instead would subject unaccompanied children to additional screening, lengthen the period of time that children may be held in custody, and weaken existing language that facilitates their access to counsel.
Susman said that H.R. 495 would “eviscerate” protections in the current framework that was carefully crafted as part of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
Expressing concern about a provision calling for Border Patrol officers to perform expedited screening procedures, Susman said, “Law enforcement agents are not equipped with training and child-welfare expertise to screen a child for specific signs of trafficking, fear of return, or persecution. This assessment should be made by a trained child welfare specialist, and if one is not available, the child’s lawyer.”
Susman also emphasized that only about 50 percent of unaccompanied children currently receive legal representation during their immigration proceedings, and a provision in the bill that all children appear before an immigration judge within 14 days would make obtaining legal counsel even more difficult and undermine the fairness of the proceedings.
“As a country that prioritizes the welfare of children in our legal system and otherwise,” he wrote, “we should not significantly diminish protections in place to ensure the appropriate treatment and adjudication of unaccompanied children.”
The bill was also referred to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, where there has been no action on the legislation.