Media Contact: Christine Glunz, 202.225.3072
Washington, DC – Addressing the needs of unaccompanied immigrant children, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) today introduced the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2003, which requires Federal authorities to recognize their difficult circumstances when making decisions regarding their care and placement. o:p>
“Imagine being ten years old, living for months locked up in a detention facility, hundreds or thousands of miles away from any family or friends and unable to understand the language that others around you are speaking,” Lofgren said. “All of this, while participating in complex legal proceedings that will determine the course of your life without an understanding of what is happening and without the assistance of an attorney.”
“The reality for immigrant children coming to the United States from repressive regimes or abusive families is that they must fend for themselves in a complex legal and sometimes punitive system, without knowledge of the English language, adult guidance, or legal counsel,” said Lofgren. “We must have minimum standards for the care and custody of unaccompanied children. These vulnerable children should not be treated roughly while their cases are considered by immigration authorities.”
Last year, under Section 462 of the Homeland Security Act, Congress transferred the care, custody, and placement of unaccompanied alien children from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve the treatment children receive when encountered at our borders. The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2003 would build upon that law.
“I commend the Department of Health and Human Services for taking important steps to improve the care and custody of these vulnerable children,” said Lofgren. “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. Now is the time to complete the positive steps we have already taken to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant minors are not locked up in jail without legal help, especially after the trauma they have been through.”
The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2003 would ensure that the transfer of responsibilities from DHS to ORR occurs in an orderly manner, that the children have access to counsel during immigration proceedings, and would provide ORR with the authority to appoint guardians ad litem when it is appropriate. The legislation would also establish minimum standards for the care and custody of unaccompanied alien children and reform procedures for abused, abandoned, or neglected children to access permanent protection when such protection is warranted.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Melissa Hart (R-PA), Chris Cannon (R-UT), Kendrick Meek (D-FL) Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and all of the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus, Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and John Conyers (D-MI).