Key Policy Issues Impacting Unaccompanied and Separated Immigrant Children

The Young Center’s Policy team is expanding our base of support on both sides of the aisle and increasing collaboration with other children’s rights organizations to bring urgent attention to the issues impacting unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. Below are some of the issues we’re focused on.

Information Sharing Agreement between ORR and DHS:

In May 2018, DHS announced an agreement with ORR (the agency that cares for the children) in which ORR would provide information about children’s family members to DHS, and then DHS would use that information to apprehend and deport anyone who came forward to sponsor the children. This policy has had a dramatic chilling effect on family members who previously would have sponsored a child’s release from custody but won’t do so now due to fear of detention or deportation. As a result of this policy, children’s length-of-stay in ORR care more than doubled from approximately one month to nearly three months at its peak in 2018. Our policy team has tackled this issue by providing questions for Senators and Representatives to ask at oversight hearings and assisting Congressional offices in drafting letters to federal agencies. We also co-wrote a statement educating members of Congress and the press about the ongoing challenges related to the agreement. Because of this advocacy, ORR modified implementation of the policy, no longer requiring the fingerprints of adults in some households and reducing the number of children facing prolonged detention.

Attacks on the Flores Agreement: In September 2018, the administration proposed regulations that would overturn the Flores agreement, which protects children and families from being indefinitely detained and prevents the prolonged detention of unaccompanied children. Without the Flores agreement, these regulations would no longer ensure children being placed in the least restrictive setting. We mobilized to fight these plans before they were implemented. As part of a national coalition of organizations in the immigration and child welfare fields, the Young Center developed model language for objecting to the regulations and rallied the public to submit comments to the Department of Homeland Security. We also submitted our own independent comment to document the harm children would face if the new regulations were implemented. 

International Policy Work: The Young Center has taken the fight against family separation to the international stage. Our Policy Director is meeting with key international allies and partners, including the Intergovernmental Consultation on Migration, Asylum, and Refugees, comprised of 17 nations. Our goal is to bring international accountability for the 2017-18 separations and work together on strategies to prevent implementation of future separation policies.

Photo credit:  Trevor Ambrico /FLICKR

Challenges and Priorities in 2019

·       Protecting the Anti-Trafficking Law: A 2008 law provides the only legal protections for immigrant children other than the Flores agreement. DHS has called this vital protection a “loophole” because it forces the agency to take temporary custody of children rather than turning them back right at the border. We are working with Hill offices to bolster this essential law.

·       Detention Fatigue and Return to Danger: We are concerned that as a result of extended lengths-of-stay, more children will ask to return to dangerous situations in their home countries in order to protect their families from putting themselves at risk by applying to sponsor them, or because they can’t wait out the prolonged detention.

·       Expedited Proceedings: The Department of Justice is trying to rush children through immigration proceedings. Former Attorney General Sessions attempted to stop immigration judges from giving children time to file their claims and follow the rules that Congress has created. As a result, children may be ordered deported by one agency while their petition for protection is still being evaluated by another. We can expect to see agencies try more shortcuts, like forcing children to appear in court by video conference. Children would be forced to prove [already complex legal] cases over video, without meeting the judge deciding their case

·       Changing the Definition of Asylum: Governmental agencies are trying to use cases and regulations to change the definition of asylum. They seek to take away the right to pursue protection because of domestic violence or violence by gangs.

·       The Dream & Promise Act: A proposed legislation to provide immigrant children and families with protection from deportation, the Dream and Promise ACT will provide relief to 2.6 million immigrants who are currently in limbo. We’ll focus some of our advocacy on the House to pass The Dream and Promise Act without adding any anti-immigrant provisions.

The Young Center remains committed to protecting the rights and best interests of immigrant children. Thanks to your support, we are able to tackle new issues and continue working towards building a safer world for vulnerable separated and unaccompanied immigrant children.

To learn more about our expanded programmatic work for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children, click here.

To read our interim report click here.

Maddie Witters