The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, wrote a letter to the President of the United States expressing concern for the protection of unaccompanied children. The full letter is posted below.
July 8, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
I write to you today on behalf of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to express deep concern regarding the implication that your administration may seek to relax the protections afforded to unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
While it is clear that our current immigration judicial system is ill-equipped to respond to the needs that the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children present, the answer to this problem should not involve the curtailment of protections to children during their hour of need. The United States often calls upon other countries that are less equipped to accept persons fleeing dangerous circumstances. It is now our nation’s turn to do what we have asked so many other countries to do before.
I am grateful that your budget request submitted to Congress on Tuesday includes money for more immigration judges, legal orientation, and legal representation services. This request could bring relief to the overwhelmed judicial system while also honoring the protections that ensure each child receive a full and fair hearing on any humanitarian claim he or she may make.
The implication, however, that the administration must also make changes to the TVPRA or give the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to exercise discretion thereby administratively diminishing the protections of the TVPRA is unacceptable.
As required by the TVPRA, unaccompanied children must:
- Be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child;
- Not be placed in a secured facility unless they are a danger to themselves or others or have been charged with a criminal offense;
- Receive legal orientation;
- Have access to counsel;
- Receive a child advocate;
- Have their asylum or other relief from deportation applications considered using procedures that take into account their specialized needs as unaccompanied children; and
- Be in contact with federal personnel who have had specialized training to work with unaccompanied children and identify children for trafficking victimization and asylum or other special immigrant relief.
Anything less than these standards will place children at risk of being returned to dangerous and exploitative situations. Our country cannot take away these vital protections when there are so many vulnerable children in need of them.
The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Anne C. Richard, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State. Statement to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, January 2014. www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/remarks/2014/219388.htm.