Statement on markup of H.R. 495, a Republican bill to remove child welfare protections

June 21, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DCU.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) issued the following statement today during a House Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 495, a Republican bill to remove basic child welfare protections for unaccompanied children which will result in an increase in child trafficking, child persecution and child abuse.

Statement of Rep. Zoe Lofgren

Markup of: H.R. 495, the "Protection of Children Act of 2017"

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

            "As Mr. Conyers has mentioned, the "Protection of Children Act" actually doesn't protect children. Instead, will result in increased child sex trafficking, the return of children to violence, the denial of legal counsel, and the prolonged detention of children.

            "I think it is very sad that today we are amending the Wilberforce Act, which was really a triumph of bipartisanship, coming together across ideological divides to say we're going to take a stand against slavery and sex trafficking. This bill will weaken that magnificent effort.

            "To argue that this bill "protects" children because it discourages them from making the journey to the U.S. misses the point. These kids, many of them, are fleeing from violent and desperate situations including forced sexual slavery, gang recruitment, and extortion.  

"Some have labeled these children, many of them under 12 years of age, as gang members and violent criminals.  But this ignores that these children are escaping the brutality, not embracing it.  As Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz testified before this Committee in 2014, proposals like this "is akin to sending these children back into a burning building they just fled."

            "We all know the stories of children escaping unspeakable violence to seek refuge and others who were brutally murdered before having a chance to do so.  Many of these children reach us after escaping from human trafficking for sex or labor.

            "Now, the Majority has argued that, in some cases, this violence is no different than the violence in some of our own American cities.  No one disputes that violence in our cities is a problem, but there are crucial differences.  Most importantly is that the violence in Central America is not localized, but instead pervades the entire region.  Gangs control every aspect of children's lives, including the police, the government, public transportation, street corners, and even schools. 

"The truth is that many of these children simply cannot find safety within their borders.  They have no choice but to seek safety outside, and in fact, they're fleeing not only to the United States, but to Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, and to other countries as well.

            "Under the guise of "protection," this bill particularly harms disabled and younger children.  The bill removes the provision in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that requires a DHS official to determine whether a child is able to make an independent decision to waive her application for admission and thus any right to seek protection under our laws. 

"This provision was intended to protect – and it was bipartisan –younger children and those with reduced mental capacities.   In practice, CBP officers transfer children under the age of 14 to HHS custody because it is understood that such children lack the capacity to make informed decisions about their own cases, particularly in the presence of enforcement officers.  Transfer to HHS custody allows these younger children and mentally disabled children to undergo a longer screening process with HHS social workers, as well as the opportunity to have a hearing before an immigration judge.

            "If this bill were actually intended to "protect" children, this provision would not be stricken.  Instead, the proposals short-term solution that would result in the rapid deportation of vulnerable younger and disabled children.  It is really Orwellian, I think, to argue that this could possibly "protect" children.

            "The Majority has complained that a "so-called" loophole in the TVPRA that allows children from non-contiguous countries (many from Central America) to be treated better than children from contiguous countries (mostly from Mexico, not Canada).  The Majority argues that children from all countries should be subjected to the same expedited screening mechanism as Mexican children. 

"But this ignores what we know about expedited screening practices.  At our government's request, the United Nations reviewed our screening practices and concluded that we are returning Mexican children to face trafficking and persecution. The GAO conducted a similar review a year later and also found the CBP failed to properly screen Mexican children. Given how broken this practice is of expedited removal, it should be ended, not expanded to other children.

"H.R. 495 also extends DHS's ability to detain unaccompanied children for up to 30 days. Remarkably, it even authorizes the indefinite detention of those who pass the screening.  Now, we all saw the heartbreaking photos of children in Border Patrol stations several years ago. Some of us, including me, traveled to the border to personally assess the situation.  The Border Patrol agents at the time did their best in a difficult situation, but we should never again force these officers to have to care for children for such lengthy periods of time.  They would be the very first to tell us that a Border Patrol station is no place for a child—and certainly not for 30 days or more.  This change in the law makes no sense.

            "Now I am always willing to consider common-sense solutions to our broken immigration system—but this bill is not that.   This proposal that will harm the most vulnerable—unaccompanied children fleeing violence, trafficking, and abuse.  It's not good policy and it's not in line with our American values of freedom and protection.