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Congress debates hastening process of returning immigrant children

Due to the unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the U.S., some members of Congress are considering amending the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act to help speed up the process of deciding which minors can remain in the U.S. But many immigrant-advocacy groups and legal-aid organizations are urging Congress to keep legal protections for minors as they cross into the U.S.

From October 2013 through the end of June 2014, over 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been taken into custody, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Many of the children are fleeing gang violence, a faltering economy, and seeking to reunite with family members in the U.S. The largest increase of minors are arriving from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, which have seen a dramatic increase in gangs and gang violence.

Republicans and some Democrats want to change the Act so more child migrants can be sent back without a full immigration hearing. Democratic leaders oppose revising the law, saying the government can speed up immigration hearings without any changes.

“An unaccompanied child arriving in the US from a non-contiguous country (not Mexico or Canada) is currently placed in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services,” Professor Jason Eyster, director of Immigrant Rights & Civil Advocacy at Thomas M. Cooley Law School told Government Security News. “The child's case is subsequently called for hearing before an Immigration Judge. In the meantime, social workers and lawyers have time to interview the child and determine whether there is evidence that this child was "abandoned, abused or neglected" by one of his or her parents.

“It’s not a good place to insert a clause that has such ramifications on a bill that has nothing to do, really, with the values that are put forth in the [2008] law,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “So let’s just keep this out. You want to have a separate bill on the 2008 [law], discuss it there. But again, don’t hold the children hostage to the cosmetics of how tough you are on the border.”

“If the additional legal process currently performed with non-Mexican children is ineffective, it should be stopped, regardless of the number of children involved,” said Professor Eyster. “If, on the other hand, it offers the same protections as those initially envisioned, then the number of immigration judges should be increased to meet this surge in applicants, but not in an expedited fashion that curtails accurate determination of these cases.”

CBP is estimating that up to 90,000 unaccompanied minors will arrive in the U.S. by the end of this year, compared to the 39,000 taken into custody last year.


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