Last week, the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson hosted a panel to discuss the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC)’s recent report on unaccompanied migrant children, also known as Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs. The panel consisted of WRC’s Director of the Detention and Asylum Program Michele Brané, WRC’s Jessica Jones, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Detention and Asylum Program, and David Shahoulian, Democratic Chief Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.
Unaccompanied migrant children face many hardships when they make the decision to take the dangerous journey to the United States. Many are fleeing gang violence, sexual abuse, forced labor, and/or trafficking. Some of the abuses these children flee continue on their journeys to the United States. The numbers of unaccompanied migrant children entering the country have doubled since 2010 (from an average 6,000-8,000 per year up to 14,000 at the end of FY 2012), which has placed a severe strain on both the Center for Border Protection (CBP) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for the custody of unaccompanied migrant children.
In their research and interviews, the WRC found that children had been kept in CBP facilities for periods exceeding the federally mandated maximum time of seventy-two hours. Some had been in CBP custody for as long as two weeks, and many reported physical, verbal, and emotional abuse by CBP guards. In some facilities, children were kept in overcrowded, cold cells with no access to showers, adequate food and water, phone calls, or legal information. Once transferred to temporary ORR facilities (built to accommodate the surge of unaccompanied migrant children), children fared better, but still complained of a lack of access to legal representation and information, inability to contact their family members, and, in some cases, inadequate recreational opportunities.
LIRS believes in providing children with the least restrictive care that meets the best interest of each child within a community-based setting. We work to provide care to unaccompanied migrant children and assist them in reunifying with family members while they navigate our immigration system. Visit our Action Center to urge your Congressional representatives to act now and work towards legislation that will provide increased protection and assistance for these young migrants.