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Washington, D.C. - Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Christopher Smith (R-NJ), co-Chairs of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Refugee Caucus, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador and actress Angelina Jolie today called for Congress to swiftly pass the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act (HR 3361). HR 3361 will provide the government with the necessary tools it needs to protect and care for vulnerable refugee and immigrant children who come to the United States for protection without a parent or other adult guardian to watch over them.
“Some children who come to seek refuge in the United States are treated in a manner that our country usually reserves for criminals, not helpless victims,” said Congresswoman Lofgren. “No child should be left to fend for herself in a complex immigration system that even you and I would fear. Congress must pass this legislation to ensure that alien minors are not locked up without any legal help or adult guidance.”
Last year, Congress transferred the care of unaccompanied alien children from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to improve the treatment children receive through the immigration process. Unfortunately, ORR inherited a system that relied upon a variety of punitive facilities to house children and was given little legislative direction to implement their new responsibilities. As a result, some children from repressive regimes or abusive families continue to fend for themselves in a complex legal and some times punitive system, without knowledge of the English language, with no adult guidance or legal counsel.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren is the original cosponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives, along with the following original cosponsors: Representatives Chris Smith, John Conyers (D-MI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Chris Cannon (R-UT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Melissa Hart (R-PA).
The companion bill in the Senate, introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), was marked up in the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 3, 2004. It is expected that the bill will be debated on the Senate floor soon.