Durbin Questions Trump Administration's Cruel Crackdown On Children Fleeing Persecution

In Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, Senator stresses that Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is a critical protection, not a “legal loophole”

U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, today grilled members of the Trump Administration from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on its treatment of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border who are fleeing horrific violence in Central America, and its cruel policy of family separation at the U.S. border, which will result in a dramatic increase in unaccompanied children. 

“The Trump Administration is admitting the fewest refugees to the United States since World War II despite the fact that we face the worst refugee crisis in the history of the world.  And we face a reality.  The reality is there’s not a single member of this panel or anyone in this room who is going to defend MS-13 or gang activities, period.  But does anyone really believe that one of our most pressing security issues in the United States today would be children fleeing horrific violence in Central America?” Durbin asked.

He continued, “So far this year, 15,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at our Southwest border.  This is far from a crisis in a nation of 325 million people.  Look at what we expect from our friends and allies in the Middle East – countries with smaller populations and more economic uncertainty than the United States – we expect them to absorb tens of thousands of refugees in the Middle East.  I stand ready to work on a bipartisan basis with anyone who is genuinely interested in combatting gang recruitment.  But I will never stop fighting against those intent on gutting humanitarian protections for children who are fleeing persecution or suggesting that the policy of the United States should now be to separate children from their parents.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks in the hearing is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks in the hearing is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks in the hearing is available here for TV Stations.

The Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have among the highest homicide rates in the world, and girls face a constant threat of sexual violence, with little protection from local authorities.  This is why children and their families are taking extraordinary risks to flee to the U.S. border.  More than 90 percent of unaccompanied children referred to HHS are from the three nations in the Northern Triangle.  Furthermore, the Trump Administration is not addressing the root causes that are driving migration from the Northern Triangle and instead is making the situation on the ground worse.  The Administration’s budget request for the region would slash assistance by more than one third.

The focus of today’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration hearing was the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.  This law was enacted to ensure the United States meets its international obligations to unaccompanied children seeking safe haven in our country.  It was a response to bipartisan concerns that children apprehended by the Border Patrol were not being adequately screened to ensure they were not returned to countries where they might be persecuted. 

Under the TVPRA, unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle are transferred to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension, receive an interview with an asylum officer if they fear persecution, and are placed in deportation proceedings, which gives them a chance to make their case to a judge.   But the Trump Administration would like to treat these children the same as those from Mexico – meaning they would be screened by a Border Patrol agent and could be quickly returned to their home country without ever seeing a judge.

In March, Durbin and 23 of his Senate colleagues pressed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Inspector General to investigate allegations that DHS is separating the children of asylum-seekers from their parents.  This requested followed reports of the case of a seven-year-old girl and her mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who were separated for more than four months after they presented themselves at the U.S. border and sought protection in accordance with the law.

At today’s hearing, Durbin questioned Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Richard Hudson, Deputy Chief, Operational Programs, Law Enforcement Operations Directorate, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.