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, 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.
Placement with relatives in America does not end the child’s vulnerability to trafficking (Lind, 2014). With the dramatic rise in UAC, there has been an increased pressure to get UACs out of shelters and into placement with family members as quickly as possible. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has stated that they do a home study for only certain categories of UAC, as well as follow up visits for at-risk children (ORR, 2013). This raises concern that a number of placements are not being adequately screened for safety. A similar practice in the 1990s resulted in Chinese immigrants being released to people officials believed were relatives, but turned out to be part of smuggling networks. The smugglers would then extort the immigrants and their families (Lind, 2014). Although it is still too soon to know if the same thing is happening to these UACs, from 2008-2010, 95% of confirmed labor trafficking survivors in the U.S were foreign-born (Banks & Kyckelhahn, 2011).
|CBP facility in South Texas (Photo: Huston Chronicle/U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar)|
Because of these compounding vulnerabilities and knowledge from the field that many UACs have been trafficked, all UACs should be screened for indicators of human trafficking once encountered at the border. The use of a standardized screening tool by trained professionals (such as the tool under development through ChildRight: New York) would identify more child survivors so they may be provided the additional protections and resources to which they are entitled. Currently, when a youth is apprehended by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer, he or she is interviewed by an officer within 48 hours to determine if he or she is eligible for protection under TVPRA. A study completed by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) found that the majority of these interviews are focused on getting quick answers and that most of the interviews were conducted in public, in plain sight of potential traffickers. Many times, interpreters were not made available to the children and on average the interviews lasted only about ten minutes (UNHCR, 2014). Although CBP has stated that they have developed trainings for their officers on how to properly screen UACs, this training has not been released to the public. Additionally, there is no data available on the number of UACs identified by the CBP to be at risk of trafficking (Center for Gender & Refugee Studies & Kids in Need of Defense, 2014).
To address the vulnerability of UAC to exploitation, several steps should be taken. First, all UACs should be screened for indicators of human trafficking by persons trained in child-sensitive interviewing. Interviews should be given in the child’s native language in a safe place where the child can feel comfortable disclosing sensitive information. All relatives and families that house UACs should be screened for possible safety concerns. Home-visits and follow up visits in line with those provided to youth in foster care should be completed to ensure that all UACs are living in healthy and safe environments. UACs should have access to legal support, including child advocates who can support them in court. Congress should enact legislation mandating counsel for UACs legislation, such as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Lastly, for UACs returned to their home country, the U.S. needs to work with the home country to implement comprehensive reintegration services. These services should focus on ensuring safety for the child when returned to their country of origin. Ideally these services should also address the safety issues that caused the child to flee their country, to ensure that the child is not returned to danger they will need to flee again.
- Caitlin Gallacher, ChildRight: New York Intern
Bank, D. & Kyckelhahn, T. (2011). Characteristic of suspected human trafficking incidents, 2008-2010. Washington, D: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) & Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). (2014). A treacherous journey: Child migrants navigating the U.S. immigration system. Retrieved from http://www.supportkind.org/en/about-us/resources/download/63
Lind, D. (2014). Thousand of children are fleeing Central America to Texas- alone. Retrieved from http://www.vox.com/2014/6/4/5773268/children-migration-central-america-texas-unaccompanied-alien-children-border-crisis
Office of Refugee Resettlement (2013). About unaccompanied children’s services. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/programs/ucs/about
Park, H. (2014). Q. and A. Children at the Border. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/15/us/questions-about-the-border-kids.html?_r=0
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 http://www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/1_UAC_Children%20on%20the%20Run_Full%20Report.pdf