The Center for Public Policy Priorities is deeply saddened by reports of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States, many detained by border security and then left to languish in military facilities ill-equipped to care for them. The situation is clearly a humanitarian crisis, but it’s also a much bigger, more complicated policy crisis.
To provide bigger picture context and illuminate best practices on how to best handle the removal and repatriation of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S, CPPP is reissuing an in-depth study we conducted in 2008 called A Child Alone and Without Papers: A report on the return and repatriation of unaccompanied undocumented children by the United States, complete with data, interviews, policy analysis, and recommendations.
Our findings mirror exactly what’s happening to children being apprehended and detained right now–they often experience trauma, maltreatment, and poor safety conditions in their journey, and they are commonly denied access to a lawyer after being detained. Six years after releasing the report, and as more recently outlined in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, the United States still hasn’t implemented a set of clear policies and procedures to address child treatment while they’re in U.S. custody, nor are there explicit and consistent policies in the children’s countries of origin when they are repatriated. The current proposals to address this crisis do not prioritize the well-being of the children in our care.
Report author Amy Thompson, formerly with CPPP and currently a PhD student at UT’s School of Social Work, says little has been done since the 2008 report to address the reasons why immigrant children come to the United States, let alone ensure their welfare while they’re here. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which was passed in 2008 to address, among many other issues related to trafficking, the treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children, has not been fully implemented. Full implementation of the TVPRA’s provisions related to safe repatriation is a necessary and critical step to ensuring the safety of the children in our care.
When children from Mexico and Central America cross the Rio Grande, the United States is responsible for their care and well-being. But our role doesn’t end there. In conjunction with the immigrants’ home countries, the U.S. must also establish bi-national standards related to the repatriation of unaccompanied children. There are concrete policy solutions that prioritize the well-being of the children and ensure a safe repatriation process, including full implementation of TVPRA signed into law in 2008. Equally important is a strategy to capture accurate statistics and documentation of all unaccompanied children, establish inter-agency information sharing, and create bi-national standards and mechanisms for data collection and sharing related to repatriation of unaccompanied children.