A bill that would ensure unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) who illegally enter the United States are safely returned home was passed by the House Committee on the Judiciary by 17-13 vote.
For those UAMs who stay with a sponsor in the United States while awaiting their immigration hearing, The Protection of Children Act (HR 1149) would provide greater transparency and safety of these minors to ensure they are not inadvertently delivered into the hands of criminals or abusers, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), chief sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.
Before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was implemented in 2012 by presidential executive order, “the number of UAMs apprehended at the border was 6,560 in Fiscal Year 2011. As news traveled around the world about the Obama administration’s immigration policies, the number of unaccompanied minors dramatically increased,” the legislators stated. And, “In Fiscal Year 2014, the number of UAMs caught at the border surged to 68,541, which is a 945 percent increase since Fiscal Year 2011.”
“The Obama administration’s immigration policies have given confidence to parents who are in the US illegally that they can stay and have encouraged them to bring their children, who are still in Central America and beyond, to the United States unlawfully,” Goodlatte said in a statement, adding that, “These children, often assisted by smugglers, face many dangerous situations as they travel through Mexico and then walk miles across a hostile border environment. We need to take action to stop these children from risking their lives to come to the United States unaccompanied and unlawfully.”
“The Protection of Children Act makes common sense changes to our laws to ensure minors who travel to the US alone are returned home safely and quickly,” Goodlatte said.
“For far too long drug smugglers have continually used loopholes in our nation’s immigration law to make billions, all while preying upon the weakest in our society,” Carter added, saying, “The Protection of Children Act of 2015 stops this abuse and removes a loophole human traffickers have used for years. Last year, we saw the effect these loopholes have on our country and southern border when tens of thousands of juveniles marched across the border and into our cities, all at the taxpayer’s expense. The great state of Texas has felt this burden, probably more than any other state. This administration needs to stop ignoring the obvious problem, burdening the American public and putting innocent lives at risk.”
The key components of the Protection of Children Act would:
- Repatriate Unaccompanied Alien Minors. In 2014, an unprecedented number of UAMs were apprehended along US borders – in excess of 68,000, which is a 945 percent increase since 2011. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 created two sets of rules regarding UAMs apprehended from contiguous and non-contiguous countries. Under current law, minors from contiguous countries (such as Mexico) can be immediately returned (if they consent, have not been trafficked and don’t have a credible fear of persecution). However, minors from other countries must be placed in very lengthy removal proceedings in immigration court (during which they are usually released into the United States, often to the very parents who attempted to smuggle them into the US). The bill eliminates the conflicting rules and subjects all minors to expeditious return if they have not been trafficked and don’t have a credible fear of persecution.
- Provide authority for the Secretary of State to negotiate agreements with foreign countries regarding UAMs, including protections for the safety of minors returned to their countries of nationality.
- Ensure minors who are victims of severe forms of trafficking are afforded a hearing before an immigration judge within 14 days.
- Provide greater transparency and safety of minors by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with biographical information regarding the sponsors or family members to whom the minors are released. Currently, there is no requirement to share sponsor or family information with DHS. Without this information, there is a danger these minors will be lost in the system, or worse, be inadvertently delivered into the hands of criminals or abusers. The bill would also mandate DHS follow up with the sponsors with whom the minors are placed to verify the sponsors’ immigration status and issue notices for the sponsors to appear in immigration court where appropriate.
- Provide for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Due to a mistake in current law, juveniles are able to obtain legal status if they can simply show they have been abandoned by a single parent. The bill reaffirms the original intent of the law to only provide protected status to juveniles who have lost or been abandoned by both parents.
- Close a commonly exploited loophole that allows minors to get two bites of the apple with regard to review of their asylum applications.