Mexican Kids Repatriated Without a Hearing

When children come into the United States without a parent or guardian, the United States has some responsibility to figure out why they came, whether they are in a human-trafficking situation, and whether they would be in danger if they are returned to their native country. As a result, the law treats unaccompanied children differently than adult immigrants. Instead of being immediately sent back to their country, minors are put in deportation proceedings so that a judge will decide. Minors are supposed to be put in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours, where they are held in child-friendly detention facilities until they can be released to a family member who will take them to their immigration court dates.

All of these rights apply to “unaccompanied minors” who cross the Mexican border UNLESS the minor is Mexican. Why is it any different for Mexican children than children coming from Central America or some other part of the world?

According to the Mexican Foreign Ministry, 13,454 Mexican children were sent back to Mexico last year, most of them without ever going before an immigration judge. Whereas a child from another part of the world has an immigration judge determine his fate, a Mexican child’s fate is determined by a border patrol agency. This is because of an agreement between the United States and Mexico and implemented by local agreements along the border.  According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, only about 10% of Mexican children are ever transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services custody. As a result, the border is a revolving door for Mexican teens that cross and are returned to Mexico multiple times without any understanding of their reasons for fleeing Mexico or their possibilities for staying legally in the United States.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was supposed to address this issue by providing screenings of the Mexican children who cross the border. The Appleseed report Children of the Border: The Screening, Protection and Repatriation of Unaccompanied Mexican Minors found that the problem was who was doing the screenings, where and how they were being conducted. Uniformed, armed Border Patrol agents conduct screenings of Mexican children. The border patrol agents receive little or no training in how to interview traumatized children. The children are held in cold cells, they are not given much food, and they lack sufficient medical treatment. They are interviewed within sight and hearing of other adults (even the smugglers). It is extremely unlikely this situation will lead to a child disclosing abuse, prostitution, or a trafficking situation.

As a result, screenings are not filtering out Mexican children who might qualify for immigration benefits. Appleseed recommends that these screenings should be conducted instead by social workers, or at least the border patrol agents should have forms and guidance on how to interview children about sensitive issues. Not all Mexican children will or even should qualify to stay in the United States legally. However, every child should be properly screened before they are sent back to a possibly abusive or dangerous situation. All children deserve this protection, no matter what country they are from.

Shine a Light on Human Trafficking

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Many people believe that slavery ended in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  While this is of course true and helped to close the door on a dark period in American history, slavery is in fact still a harsh reality in today’s world.  Regarded as a form of modern day slavery, human trafficking, the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of individuals for the purpose of exploitation, is the fastest growing and most profitable area of organized crime in the world.  With approximately 20.9 million victims, human trafficking impacts children and adults alike in cities, countries, and continents all around the world.

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The severity and continued growth of the human trafficking industry caught the attention of Congress and in 2000 they passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which declared all types of human trafficking a federal crime.  The TVPA wasn’t enacted for only prosecutorial reasons, but is also aimed at prevention through public awareness programs.  In 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011, increasing knowledge and awareness of the issue led to developments in the act and in 2013, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the TVPA, recognizing the magnitude of the international human trafficking problem and reestablishing the important role the TVPA plays in combating it.

While the U.S. government has taken a stance against the human trafficking problem through legislation, campaigns for public awareness and educating citizens on reporting tips can urge individuals to take a stance as well. One such initiative is underway in the city of Houston, one of the principal supply and transport sites for children and adult trafficking victims due to its proximity, demographics, substantial immigrant labor force, and easy access to I-10, the number one route for human trafficking in the United States.  During the month of September, Houston’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Mayor Annise Parker vows to provide the pubic with informative facts about the global dilemma as well as educate individuals about ways they can help combat the problem.  Houston’s public awareness campaign, “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking,” is aimed at educating the public on how to recognize signs of human trafficking and encouraging them to report suspicious situations to the appropriate authorities.  Other states, such as Ohio, have recently pledged resources and manpower to establish public awareness campaigns in order to educate the public on the problem of human trafficking.

Long-term education and awareness campaigns like “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking” can play a big role in combating modern day slavery.  With numerous businesses such as massage parlors, escort services, salons, and modeling agencies acting as fronts for the human trafficking industry, increased awareness of the warning signs and recognition of the types of establishments that have been known to be involved in the industry can help authorities put an end to this epidemic.  Often hidden in plain sight, law enforcement agencies often rely on the public for tips to locate, dismantle, and prosecute individuals involved in these organizations.

Modern human trafficking presents the most widespread global slave trade known to mankind, with more people enslaved today than at any other time in human history. A violation of one of the most basic human rights, efforts to combat this epidemic should be tailored towards the restoration of that fundamental human right—freedom.  It is a common misconception that human trafficking presents only a vast international problem; the U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 individuals are purchased and sold across international lines and borders every year, the United States included.  Making people more aware of this fact alone can help combat the human trafficking dilemma.  Awareness campaigns are invented to provide the tools needed to help bring the victims to safety and individuals involved in the human trafficking industry to justice.

For those who live in Houston and would like to take part in “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking,” the campaign will kick off at City Hall on September 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday’s Children & the Law News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reformed, Youngstown News

In February 2004, the detention hall at the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center housed kids two to a room, and the population crept toward 90 in a facility with 40 rooms.  It was in this environment that a 17-year-old teenager was raped by his cell mate, who purportedly was a known sexual predator.

Court Administrator Anthony D’Apolito, also a magistrate, took his post in 2006, near the end of the cases. One of the first changes he made was to ban double-bunking in the center. “I never wanted to ever have an opportunity for that to happen again,” he said of the rape.

Now, the average population in the center is 32.  D’Apolito receives daily reports from the detention center, which is part of the juvenile court complex on the East Side. A juvenile can stay in detention for one day if committed on a “status offense,” such as truancy, curfew violation or unruly juvenile. The average stay is 9 days compared with 25 days in 2006, D’Apolito said.

Bring Campus Crimes Reports Out in the Open, The Chronicle of Higher Education

The campuses of private colleges are islands of invisible crime, black boxes where even violent offenses can largely disappear from public view. The public can find out more about an assault in a private homeowner’s living room than about an assault on the quad at Notre Dame.

Court Orders University to be Notified of Child Porn Charges Against Student, NBC10 Philadelphia

A court ruling against a Lehigh County teen charged with downloading child pornography is sparking controversy.  Police found child pornography on the 17-year-old boy’s laptop in 2010. The teen had just graduated from high school and was planning on attending Temple University when he admitted to one count of sexual abuse of children, a felony. The teen’s lawyer, Gavin Holohan, tells NBC10 his client obeys the rules of his probation and has learned from his mistakes.

Alone in the American Legal System: It’s Up to Us to Help Undocumented Children, The Oregonian

A recent article in The New York Times described the crisis of undocumented children in Texas facing deportation. The story began with Juan, a 6-year-old so small he couldn’t be seen over the courtroom bench when he stood to appear before the judge.

Children in Portland who have a legitimate path to legal status are being deported all the time. Pro-bono attorneys can’t take all of these cases by themselves. There are too many children, and there are real costs associated with competent representation. These children are going through our courts, and how we treat and handle them is our local responsibility.

While we may disagree with our immigration system, we cannot penalize these children for those failings. We cannot continue to allow children to be deported simply because they do not have access to legal counsel.

Teen’s Try for Green Card is Denied, Lexington Clipper-Herald

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday blocked a teenager’s bid to get an immigration green card based on being abandoned by his father.  The youngster, identified in the ruling only as Erick M., had hoped to qualify for “special immigrant juvenile” status under federal law.