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Politics

Trump administration policy mistreats migrant children

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Most Americans have no reason to know anything about the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), but it has recently become a flash point in immigration policy.

Initially established in 2000, the alphabet-soup legislation made human trafficking a federal crime. It has been reauthorized over the years to expand its scope to unaccompanied minor children and people from outside the United States. The TVPRA is now being used as a so-called pull factor that anti-immigration zealots say creates a system to be cynically gamed by parents and ne'er-do-wells who try to use defenseless children to sweet-talk their way into our country.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently told a congressional committee that she believes that "recycling rings" are victimizing children when adult immigrants claim them as family and then pass them on to be used over and over to help other immigrants get into the country.

As multiple news outlets reported, Nielsen did not offer any evidence to place her claim in any type of context. And the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) haven't provided any reports that could point to multiple specific instances of the sort of coordinated, malicious activity that could rightly constitute a "ring."

Realistically speaking, there may be some small number of adults who have victimized kids in this way. It's despicable, but in no way does such behavior represent the vast majority of loving families fleeing their homelands to avoid violence or to seek the opportunity to eat and find housing.

But Nielsen made the unverified claim, and in doing so fed a now-popular caricature of dangerous, criminal migrants. In reality, these people risk everything to plead for asylum in this country, as is their lawful right.

 

Worse, tall tales about the "migrant hordes" carry water for the kind of headline-seeking policies the Trump administration depends on to convince its base that it's keeping campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration.

The Trump administration is now on the precipice of undermining the TVPRA for the supposed purpose of helping children.

As it stands, the law requires unaccompanied children to be screened by Customs and Border Protection officers and then be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services, typically within a 72-hour period, for care and further screening. This requirement is meant to put kids in the care of an agency tasked with safeguarding their best interests, instead of an agency whose mission it is to enforce immigration laws.

The Trump administration's rule changes seem designed to keep out as many children as possible. They would require Central American children who present themselves at the U.S. border seeking asylum to have a qualified parent or guardian who could take them in unless they want to be bounced back home immediately. Or the children could be required to pay an application-processing fee.

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