Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee today approved by a vote of 15-12 the Protection of Children Act (H.R. 495). This bill ensures that unaccompanied alien minors who make the dangerous journey to the United States are safely returned home. For those who stay with a sponsor in the United States while awaiting their immigration hearing, the bill provides for greater transparency and safety of these minors to ensure they are not inadvertently delivered into the hands of criminals or abusers.
During the Obama Administration, lax immigration policies encouraged hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America to make the dangerous trek to the United States. In fact, from 2012 through 2016, over 231,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congressman John Carter (R-Texas), chief sponsor of the Protection of Children Act and Chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, praised today’s Committee vote to ensure minors crossing the border are protected and safely returned home.
Chairman Goodlatte: “The Obama Administration’s disastrous immigration policies created disorder at our nation’s southern border and jeopardized the lives of hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America making the unsafe journey to the United States. These children, often assisted by smugglers, face many dangerous situations as they travel through Mexico and then walk miles across a hostile border environment. Fortunately, the Trump Administration has reversed many of the policies that led to the border surge but changes to the law are needed in order to close loopholes that helped encourage these children to risk their lives and 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 U.S. alone are returned home safely and quickly. It also contains preventative measures to protect kids who stay in the U.S. from being delivered into the hands of sponsors who may be criminals or child abusers. I thank Congressman Carter for introducing this legislation and urge the House of Representatives to act on it soon.”
Congressman Carter: “For too long, human traffickers have used loopholes to skirt immigration law, preying upon children as they seek to reach the United States. By manipulating asylum laws, children are trafficked across the southwest border by drug cartels into uncertain circumstances. The Protection of Children Act is clearly a step in the right direction, combating human trafficking by reducing incentives to circumvent our immigration laws.”
Key Components of the Protection of Children Act:
- Expeditiously and Safely Returns Unaccompanied Alien Minors Home: 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 United States. 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. The bill also provides authority for the Secretary of State to negotiate agreements with foreign countries regarding unaccompanied alien minors, including protections for the safety of minors returned to their countries of nationality.
- Provides Victims of Trafficking Prompt Access to Justice: The bill ensures that minors who are victims of severe forms of trafficking are afforded a hearing before an Immigration Judge within 14 days.
- Protects Unaccompanied Minors from Criminals and Child Abusers: The bill provides for 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 also mandates that 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.
- Clarifies Congressional Intent Regarding 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.
- Strengthens the Integrity of the Asylum Process: The bill remedies a commonly exploited loophole that allows unaccompanied minors to get two bites of the apple with regard to review of their asylum applications. Specifically, the bill streamlines the asylum process for unaccompanied minors by providing the immigration court with primary jurisdiction to adjudicate the application in certain cases.