Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Ensuring the Safety And Well-Being of Unaccompanied Children

Administration officials from the Departments of Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, and State to testify

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Ensuring the Safety and Well-Being of Unaccompanied Children, Part II.”  The hearing builds on the committee’s hearing on this issue in June, which featured testimony from child welfare and labor experts, and follows Chair Durbin’s letter with 11 Senate colleagues to Department of Labor (DOL) Acting Secretary Julie Su urging the Department to continue holding companies accountable for violations of child labor laws.

Key Quotes:

“Today, we have gathered for this Committee’s second hearing this year examining the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children who seek refuge in the United States… I know there is bipartisan interest in this issue, as several Republican members of the Committee asked me to hold today’s hearing.  As I told them, I was happy to accommodate that request, because I was already working to schedule this hearing.” 

“In fact, there is a long history of both parties working together to protect these children.  In 2008, the Senate unanimously passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, also known as the TVPRA.  This legislation’s protections for unaccompanied children were championed by our late colleague Senator Feinstein.  The bill was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.”

“As a result, our laws now require that unaccompanied children who arrive in the United States be screened for human trafficking, housed in child-appropriate settings, and reunited with family in the U.S. while they await their immigration proceedings.”

“These laws enshrine our nation’s moral and legal responsibility to protect vulnerable children fleeing persecution.   But the tragic reality is these children are still at risk once they arrive here.  Since 2018, our nation has seen a nearly 70 percent increase in underage children working in positions in violation of child labor laws.  And several states have responded to our labor shortage by passing laws that make it easier for children to work in many dangerous jobs.”

“I hope today’s hearing will be an opportunity to continue the bipartisan spirit that led to the current laws protecting unaccompanied children who often have risked their lives to make the trek to this country.  I want to remind everyone that these unaccompanied children are just that—children.”

“We all agree that no child should be abused, exploited, or trafficked. That’s why I’ve tried to be consistent in my oversight efforts, whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat.”

“We cannot forget the responsibility of the United States Congress.  It is easy to criticize the Executive Branch, but first we should look in the mirror.  It has been decades since Congress passed meaningful immigration legislation.  Instead of lobbing partisan attacks, let’s come together across the aisle to fix our broken immigration system, secure our border, and protect these children.”

“We should provide adequate funding to increase enforcement against child labor violations and ensure these children have access to the services they need.  We also need new safeguards that strengthen the promise of the TVPRA.  This week, I am introducing legislation to improve sponsor vetting and placement, help children navigate our legal system, and better protect minors in government custody.  I welcome my colleagues from either side of the aisle to join me in solving these complex problems.”

Following a bombshell New York Times report in February, Chair Durbin took to the Senate floor to call on Congress to protect children from exploitation and fix our broken immigration system. Durbin and 16 Senate colleagues wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra and then-Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to request information on children’s placement with sponsors and investigations into child labor.

In May, Durbin announced his intention to hold a committee hearing on the issue, while leading oversight efforts to hold companies accountable for unlawfully employing migrant children. In June, Durbin and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) wrote to Becerra seeking information related to alleged “whistleblower chilling” by HHS against staff who reported concerns about the risk of labor exploitation and trafficking of unaccompanied children.

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.