Thursday, October 9, 2014

Adolescents & the Border Crisis, Part 1: Unaccompanied Minors and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Since October, nearly 63,000 youth have been apprehended attempting to enter into the United States through the Mexican border (Park, 2014). Since 2011, the number of children from Central America attempting to enter America has doubled each year (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2014). These children, labeled either unaccompanied minors (UAM) or unaccompanied alien children (UAC), are coming to the U.S. primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They are frequently coming in an attempt to escape poverty, sexual assault, violence from gangs, kidnapping, or murder. This multi-part series of will explore the impact of border migration by unaccompanied children and youth on social policy in the U.S.

The majority of the debate in Congress and among the public has surrounded the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), first passed in 2000 and reauthorized most recently in 2013. This legislation protects survivors of labor and sex trafficking in the U.S. and imposes criminal sanctions against both international and domestic traffickers. A clause added in 2008 allows UACs who enter the U.S. from non-bordering countries (other than Mexico and Canada) to not face immediate deportation, but rather to be offered the opportunity to see a judge in a deportation hearing.  This clause was added to better identify and protect child survivors of trafficking in other countries who were then brought to the U.S. from the southern border. It also identifies resources for survivors, as well as agencies responsible for providing these services.

In the ongoing debate over the border crisis, many have been quick to blame the TVPRA for the influx in UACs entering the U.S. However, due to their lack of protection under the TVPRA and inadequate screening methods, the majority of apprehended Mexican children are determined to not fit the criteria needed for asylum. These youth are generally deported back to Mexico within a few days, forcing them to again face the many dangers they sought to escape.

UAC at border patrol facility (Photo: Twitter/Jeffery Guteman)
For this reason Mexican youth in particular are especially vulnerable to trafficking for sex or labor.  Mexican youth are often recruited by gangs to work in the human smuggling industry, and traffickers know that if youth are apprehended they will be quickly released and can start working again within days (UNHCR, 2014). 

There have been many bills proposed to address the UAC crisis, a majority of which  seek to amend the TVPRA so that all youth who attempt to enter the United States without proper documentation are deported promptly (in the same manner as Mexican youth).  This short-sighted response to a massive global problem is not a solution. Rather than remove critical protections for some of the world’s most vulnerable children, efforts should instead focus on addressing the issues forcing children to flee their homes in the first place.  Since the majority of children are fleeing due to violence and poverty, the United States should provide aid to address gang violence and corruption in Central American governments. Studies have shown that children who are attempting to escape violence in their countries come to America as a last resort; they often move around within their country or other countries in Central America before they are forced to come to America to escape the gangs that follow them (Kennedy, 2014).  Providing safe homes or spaces for these children in their countries would dramatically decrease the amount of UACs seeking to enter the U.S.  By jeopardizing the legal protections available to UACs, we are increasing the risk of unjust deportations, which could mean that we are sending children to their traffickers, abusers, and their deaths. 

Contact your representative and let them know that they should not support proposed legislation to amend the TVPRA. 

Sign the petition:

- Caitlin Gallacher, ChildRight: NY Intern 


Kennedy, E. (2014).  No childhood here: Why central American children are fleeing their homes.  American Immigration Council.  Retrieved from

Park, H. (2014). Q. and A. Children at the Border.  Retrieved from

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2014).  Children on the run: Unaccompanied children leaving Central American and Mexico and the need for international protection.  Retrieved from

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