Gradye Parsons, Presbyterian Church, July 17, 2014
I write to you today on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to express deep concern over discussions that Congress and the President may seek to relax the protections afforded to unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
While it is clear that our current immigration judicial system is ill-equipped to respond to the needs that the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children present, the answer to this problem should not involve the curtailment of protections to children during their hour of need. The United States often calls upon other countries that are less equipped to accept persons fleeing dangerous circumstances. It is now our nation’s turn to do what we have asked so many other countries to do before.
I am grateful that the President’s emergency supplemental request submitted to Congress on Tuesday includes additional Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) funds for immigration judges, legal orientation, and legal representation services. This request could bring relief to the overwhelmed judicial system, while also honoring the protections that ensure each child receive a full and fair hearing on any humanitarian claim he or she may make. I urge you and your colleagues in Congress to approve this emergency supplemental appropriation without delay.
As you approve these funds, however, I urge you not to make changes to the TVPRA. As required by the TVPRA, unaccompanied children must:
- Be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child;
- Not be placed in a secured facility unless they are a danger to themselves or others or have been charged with a criminal offense;
- Receive legal orientation;
- Have access to counsel;
- Receive a child advocate;
- Have their asylum or other relief from deportation applications considered using procedures that take into account their specialized needs as unaccompanied children; and
- Be in contact with federal personnel who have had specialized training to work with unaccompanied children and identify children for trafficking victimization and asylum or other special immigrant relief.
Anything less than these standards will place children at risk of being returned to dangerous and exploitative situations. Our country cannot take away these vital protections when there are so many vulnerable children in need of them.
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly