Rep. Roybal-Allard and Senators Introduce Child Trafficking Victims Protection and Welfare Act
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Senators Mazie K. Hirono (HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), and Kamala D. Harris (CA) have introduced the Child Trafficking Victims Protection and Welfare Act, which expands protections for vulnerable children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The bill has been introduced in the House as H.R. 7047, and in the Senate as S. 3558.
When children cross the border into the U.S., seeking protection either as unaccompanied children or as members of a family, they are first held in CBP custody. However, reports by the Government Accountability Office and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have found that children receive inadequate care in CBP facilities; that CBP’s child screening processes are inconsistent; and that CBP staff lack sufficient training in dealing with children. The Child Trafficking Victims Protection and Welfare Act establishes a number of essential requirements for the care of children in CBP custody, including a climate-appropriate environment, safe and sanitary living conditions, a bed and sufficient linens, adequate and healthy nutrition, potable water, and access to legal services. Additionally, the legislation requires CBP to consult with experts in child welfare, development, and health; develop guidelines for the treatment of children in its custody; and require licensed child welfare professionals to be available at certain ports of entry or Border Patrol stations. The bill also includes a number of provisions to prevent family separation and to assist the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services in reuniting separated families.
“It is simply unconscionable for our government to treat immigrant children with anything less than the utmost care and decency,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and founder and co-chair of the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform. “During my trip to the South Texas border in July, I spoke with families who were traumatized by their separation at the border. I witnessed children forced to sleep with Mylar blankets on mats, instead of sleeping on beds of their own. We must remember that many of the migrant children who cross the border into the U.S. have already experienced trauma in their home countries and in the course of their journey to America. We must ease their trauma, not compound it. That is why I am proud to introduce the Child Trafficking Victims Protection and Welfare Act, which will ensure that children receive the dignified and humane treatment they need while in our government’s care.”
“All children, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. But over the past year and a half, the Trump Administration has ignored these fundamental American values by separating thousands of children from families and rounding up hundreds more in the middle of the night for transfer to unlicensed encampment,” said Senator Hirono, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. “These inhumane actions are a stark reminder of why this legislation, and the critical safeguards it provides to protect immigrant children at ports of entry, border patrol stations, and CBP facilities, is urgently needed.”
“When I visited the Southern border to monitor the family separation crisis, I was shocked to find no child welfare professionals there to protect the wellbeing of kids cruelly taken from their parents by this Administration,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “With reports outlining inconsistencies in child screening processes, unsafe living conditions and allegations of abuse, Congress must act now. Our bill requires Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel who interact with these children to undergo training, establishes minimum standards for the treatment of children in CBP custody and requires child welfare professionals to represent the best interests of children. I urge my colleagues to support this bill and take seriously our responsibility to protect vulnerable children.”
“A society is judged based on how it treats its children, and due to the actions of this administration towards young immigrants we will surely be judged harshly,” said Senator Harris, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and Judiciary Committee. “The Child Trafficking Victims Protection and Welfare Act gives us a chance to make things right by ensuring that children in the custody of CPB are treated humanely and won’t be separated from their parents. Every child is entitled to their dignity and deserves compassion, comfort, and safety.”
Congresswoman Roybal-Allard first introduced this legislation in 2008 as part of the Immigration Oversight and Protection Act. She has also been a fierce advocate for improving the care of unaccompanied children in the United States. As part of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2019, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard included $3.7 million for CBP to hire specialized personnel to provide medical, mental health screening, triage, and referral services for unaccompanied children in its custody, and she is working with CBP now to expedite the hiring of these personnel. The House bill also includes $3 million to fund on-site mental health services for children and their families in CBP facilities, as well as mental health training for CBP personnel.