LatinaLista — Last week, Mexican diplomats in North Texas were among the first of U.S.-based Mexican consulates to sign “accords” with the U.S. that creates clear guidelines on how the United States should deport children and women and those with disabilities.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been found to be negligent in how they deported the most vulnerable of all undocumented immigrants. It was reported that DHS would deport busloads of children into Mexico in the dead of night and leave them to fend for themselves in some of the most dangerous border towns.
(Source: Women’s Refugee Commission)
The new accords stipulate, among other things, that when children are to be deported the government notifies the families or Mexico’s family welfare agency so that the children can be received and transferred into the care of responsible adults.
However, a new report issued by the Women’s Refugee Commission found that before these children are deported, the United States is not supplying the kind of consistent care that would ensure these children’s safety, health or basic rights.
In the recently released report, Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody, researchers at the Women’s Refugee Commission were quick to point out at the beginning of the report that conditions for the care of unaccompanied minors had improved over the last six years.
Yet, when reports still exist of children being physically abused by Border Patrol agents or placed in adult jails or subjected to harsh, adversarial court proceedings without the opportunity to defend themselves, then things really aren’t that great.
In fact, it’s only when the children are actually taken from DHS, ICE or border patrol oversight and turned over to the specially created department to oversee unaccompanied minors — Division of
Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS) — does the care and welfare of these children show improvement.
Yet, DHS has been purposely uncooperative in the length of time it retains children under their supervision when they should have immediately turned the children over (within 72 hours) to DUCS. Also, it was noted by the researchers that DHS was purposely uncooperative with them during the compilation of the report and would not answer questions.
Yet, in a not so surprising development, researchers reported:
The research and writing of this report took place over two years. We are happy to report that during the final drafting and review process, and possibly as a result of our discussions with them, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I CE) and Border Patrol have begun initiatives to address some of the concerns we raise herein.
But that doesn’t erase the facts that the problems though they are being addressed, still persist.
For that reason, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard will re-introduce the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act. The legislation will require DHS to provide independent licensed social workers at the majority of Border Patrol stations so that children are informed of their legal rights and provided with emergency medical and mental health care, bedding, blankets, recreation and adequate nutrition. It will also ensure that children are kept safe from abuse during transfer to DUCS or upon repatriation and would prevent DHS from co-mingling unaccompanied children with (non-relative) adults or juvenile offenders.
In the meantime, the authors of the report made several specific recommendations to jumpstart the needed reforms in the detention of unaccompanied minors. If initial government response is any indication then the lives of thousands of children will be safeguarded.
The following are recommendations cited in the Women’s Refugee Commission’s report:
ICE, Border Patrol and ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) must clarify the definition of unaccompanied alien child so that no child remains in ICE or Border Patrol custody for more than 72 hours, regardless of criminal history.
DHS and HHS (Health Human Services) must implement the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA)-a major step forward in protecting unaccompanied children which will resolve some of the deficiencies we observed (see the Women’s Refugee Commission’s December 11th statement on the legislation).*
To protect their best interest, children in immigration proceedings must be provided with guardians and attorneys. Most children must now represent themselves in court and navigate the complex immigration system on their own-an exceedingly difficult task for anyone, much less a child. (Latina Lista note: For this very reason, the non-profit organization KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) was created to provide pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied minors.)
DUCS should take steps to enhance internal monitoring and oversight to ensure that sites are in compliance with DUCS policies and procedures and that complaints and concerns are addressed quickly and effectively.
An independent agency or organization with expertise in child welfare service delivery should conduct an analysis of the DUCS program and structure, and issue recommendations for a service delivery model that brings the program fully into line with recognized child welfare practices.