VIDEO: Menendez Urges Judiciary Committee to Examine Root Causes of Forced Migration & Unaccompanied Minors at Senate Hearing

VIDEO: Menendez Urges Judiciary Committee to Examine Root Causes of Forced Migration & Unaccompanied Minors at Senate Hearing

   

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, testified at a congressional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration titled “TVPRA and Exploited Loopholes Affecting Unaccompanied Alien Children.” 

The Senator discussed federal anti-trafficking laws protecting children who arrive to the U.S. alone, the Trump Administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border, and the published findings of Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff indicating the decision to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador and Honduras was politicized by the Trump Administration.

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Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

“Chairman Tillis, Ranking Member Durbin – I appreciate the opportunity to offer testimony today.

To begin, I ask we be honest about who these unaccompanied minors who travel to the U.S. border seeking refuge actually are. They are children. Children fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries.

Children like thirteen year-old Juliana, who made the harrowing trek from El Salvador to the U.S. after being kidnapped, beaten and raped, seeing her father murdered and her mother stabbed by gang members.[1]

We’re talking about children. Nearly a third under the age of 14. Nearly a third of them girls – a number that’s growing alongside increasing gender-based violence.

Most of these children come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” – a region plagued by gang violence, weak institutions, and poverty.

These children undertake the perilous journey to the U.S. because, like Juliana, they’ve faced forced gang recruitment, kidnapping, rape, and death. 

To be blunt, it’s stay and die, or flee and live.

We cannot tweet our way out of this problem. We must address the root causes of this forced migration. 

In 2015, El Salvador had the highest homicide rate in the world. Today it remains eleven times that of the United States. And Honduras and Guatemala rank among the top six most violent countries in the region.  If we aim to reduce forced migration, we must improve the conditions in the region . Our only hope at doing so is by working with the Governments of the Northern Triangle.

Such an effort demands robust support – and funding – for the State Department and USAID. Yet the President’s FY2019 budget calls for a 42 percent cut to regional initiatives. That is not a serious policy response.

Nor is the Administration’s recent decision to end Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for El Salvador and Honduras. This will only exacerbate the problem.  In recent weeks, I published findings from Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff indicating the decision to end TPS for El Salvador and Honduras was likely politicized.

U.S. diplomats and State Department officials advised the Trump Administration against it.  They warned it would: weaken U.S. national security, undercut bilateral cooperation against transnational gang violence, increase illegal immigration and likely endanger the lives of TPS beneficiaries and their U.S. citizen children by exposing them to gang violence.

Warned of these dangers, the Administration did it anyway. That’s why I’m urging the Government Accountability Office to investigate this decision.

The Administration may wish Northern Triangle’s problems would just “go away”, but once these children reach the border, we must afford them due process.

The bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) strengthened federal anti-trafficking laws and established a process for children who arrive to the U.S. alone, by ensuring all children are screened for trafficking and by prohibiting their quick deportation.

Our laws say children from non-contiguous countries must be granted an immigration hearing, allowed to consult with an advocate, and turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services.  These laws are grounded in due process and child welfare principles so that the United States does not return a child to their death. 

President Trump claims our asylum laws are full of “loopholes” and that we have “open borders”. 

Well, either he doesn’t understand the law, doesn’t care to learn, or both.” 

Those granted asylum undergo security background checks. Those posing security threats are barred from receiving it.

Asylum-seekers must prove a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group and is no easy task.

But the President and some Congressional Republicans would rather dismantle legal protections for children and sow fear to score CHEAP political points with their nationalist base.  Calling these children “gang bangers” and deporting them won’t address the complex problems in Central America.

Rather than propose solutions, the Trump Administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border is actually creating more unaccompanied minors. Parents are criminally prosecuted while children are left to the whims of the Federal Government.

Such policies will not stem the violence in the Northern Triangle driving this forced migration.

President Trump is instead creating a new class of de facto foster children and manufacturing a child welfare crisis.

More than 700 children have been separated from their parents – at least 100 younger than four years-old.[2] Tearing innocent children away from their parents is shameful, cruel, and un-American. 

This Administration claims to be for law and order. But it deals in chaos and discord.  Do not be fooled: criminalizing asylum seekers simply because they didn’t assert their claims at an arbitrary checkpoint runs counter to established refugee and asylum law.

Instead of doing the hard work of governing, the Trump Administration takes shortcuts, which turn into crises. They did it with DACA. They did it with TPS. Now, they’re doing it with unaccompanied children. 

This Administration must stop conflating all immigrants with criminals.  The combined 33,000 DACA recipients in Nevada and New Jersey are not criminals. Nor are the combined 12,500 TPS holders from El Salvador in Nevada and New Jersey. And these unaccompanied children shouldn’t be labeled criminals either.

The decisions we make at home can aggravate and destabilize conditions abroad. We must engage with the governments of the Northern Triangle, address the root causes and treat children humanely.  Otherwise, stories like Juliana’s will continue, and children and families will continue to flee and seek refuge in the U.S.



[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/01/the-teens-trapped-between-a-gang-and-the-law

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/us/immigrant-children-separation-ice.html