Category Archives: Budget

Unaccompanied Minor Debate Ignores International Trafficking Issues

The debate over the increase in unaccompanied minors coming across the border has been largely focused on an argument of whether the President’s past policies have attracted these children to come from the three countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala or whether changes made to the TVPA in 2008 have resulted in the increases migration. New protections were added to the TVPA in 2008 for unaccompanied minors if they were not coming from Mexico or Canada.

Late last year a U.S. Bishops’ Mission sought to determine why there is such a dramatic increase in the flow of vulnerable youth. The report indicates that there is no simple answer but instead a number of interrelated factors, what they labeled the “perfect storm” of a number of problems including: the absence of economic opportunity, the lack of quality education and access to education generally and the resulting inability for individuals to financially support themselves and their families in their home communities, the desire to reunify with family in the United States, and the increased violence including gang violence and coercion within parts of the countries most affected. The report can be obtained at: Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States

What has been left unsaid is that a number of the journeys north are influenced by a network of traffickers who exploit and frequently abuse child victims. Families and victims may be enticed into a promise of better lives in the U.S. and the promise, by some reports in the media, cost anywhere from $3000 to $6000 per child. Children (and adults in many instances) may then find their way into forced labor or sex trafficking once they arrive in other countries including the United States. Each year, as a result of the TVPA, the State Department releases its Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) which examines each country and rates the progress or lack of progress of countries in regard to their efforts to prevent human trafficking. The 2014 report indicated the following for the three countries:

“Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and, to a lesser extent, other foreign countries. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, exploit children in prostitution. …Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border area with Mexico. Guatemalan men, women, and children are also found in conditions of forced labor in agriculture, the garment industry, small businesses, and in domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Transnational criminal organizations are reportedly involved in some cases of human trafficking, and gangs reportedly recruit children to commit illicit acts; some of these children may be trafficking victims.”

“El Salvador–Gangs use children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, and some of these children are trafficking victims. Salvadoran men, women, and children have been subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Media and government officials report that organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are involved in trafficking crimes in El Salvador. Latin American migrants transit El Salvador en route to Guatemala and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex or labor trafficking.”

“Honduras is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor; to a much lesser extent, Honduras is a destination for women and girls from neighboring countries subjected to sex trafficking. Honduran women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries in the region, particularly Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the United States. …Honduran men, women, and children are also subjected to forced labor in other countries, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. …NGOs report that gangs and criminal organizations exploit girls in sex trafficking, and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to transport drugs, engage in extortion, or to be hit men. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor.”

One of the questions raised is how a parent would be willing to let their child go or send them off to another country. Many families see such a journey, with assurances of secure travel, as a better opportunity for a better life for their child. On June 12, the U.S. Labor Department held a forum in recognition of “World Day Against Child Labor”, one survivor of forced labor, “A.G” described her forced child labor in the United States after being smuggled from Togo into the United States at the age of nine. She along with her siblings became entrapped in Michigan after promises of a better life in the U.S. made by relatives and smugglers to her parents. In her response to questions from the audience she explained how many families in her country and continent see an opportunity for children to live in the United States or Europe as an opportunity for a better life for their children. She was eventually rescued through the actions of her school working with Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors. Traffickers play a large and profitable role in moving many children across the globe.

Two Tracks For Congressional Funding to Address Unaccompanied Minors

By the end of last week, July 18, Congress’s path forward to address the issue of the surge of unaccompanied minors across the US boarder was becoming less clear with each house pursuing different approaches. The President has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding mainly for services both legal and humanitarian with the bulk of funding for HHS and smaller parts for the State Department and Homeland Security. The House leadership, mainly through Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), has made clear that the House will not honor the request by the President. It is not clear exactly what the House will be able to pass or if they will get it done before they leave for the August break. Elements of the House majority proposal could include: reducing the funding request, changing the current 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) amendment that allowed greater protections for unaccompanied minors coming into the country (if they weren’t from Mexico or Canada) and possibly a cut in other domestic programs as a way to pay for the request. The President asked the funding to be covered under the emergency spending category.

The Senate was considering several options. One proposal by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) would bundle funding with a change in the TVPA law but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) opposes such a plan and there appears to be strong opposition to the proposal by members of the Congressional Hispanic caucus. There is also an intense feeling among advocates that the law should not be changed since it was a bipartisan proposal signed into law by President George W Bush in an increased effort to better assist the worldwide force-labor and sex trafficking victims. Another potential issue is an effort led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to repeal the President’s 2012 executive order that created a version of the “Dream Act.” The order, similar to the legislation, allows some children and youth to stay here legally if they came to the United States before age 16 and before 2007, have lived here for at least five years, and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing.

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) endorses the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.”

On Monday, July 7 the Child Welfare League of America formally endorsed the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.” The legislation extends the Adoption Incentives Fund for three years, provides a current-year extension to the Family Connections Grants, strengthens provisions that direct states to re-invest state savings from the expansion of federal funding for Adoption Assistance program, and creates new court oversight for youth in foster care.

In the letter to Congressional leaders, Chris James-Brown, President and CEO of CWLA said,

“We appreciate the important bipartisan, bicameral effort this legislation represents. We believe the Adoption Incentives program has been an important program and incentive for states to promote and strengthen adoption. We are pleased that the new formula will now recognize kinship placements and also attempt to focus additional attention on the pre-adolescents and adolescent population that are coming into care.

CWLA is also very supportive of the extension of the Family Connections grants for the current year. We want to work with members of both parties and in both houses to make sure we extend this beyond the current year and look forward to continuing this work over the next few months.”

She went on to say, “CWLA extends its support to congressional efforts to better address the vulnerabilities of youth in foster care. Whether this population is vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking, aging out of care, or remaining in foster care without the needed health, behavioral health and other services we believe more is needed and we hope this legislation will assist in that effort.”

The House of Representatives is expected to take action on the joint House-Senate bill in the next two weeks with the Senate hopefully acting shortly after that.

Bill Introduced Based on Annie E Casey Finance Proposal

On Thursday, June 19 Congressman James Langevin (D-RI) introduced the Permanent Families for All Act, legislation that would implement parts of the Annie E Casey child welfare finance proposal. The bill would do away with the current link to the 1996 AFDC program in determining a child’s eligibility for federal foster care funding (de-link) but it would accomplish that by reducing the federal matching funds state receive. Currently the federal government provides a match based on what is called the “FMAP” rate for each eligible child with a state’s match based on an annual formula. A state may get a match of as low as 50 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in one federal dollar) while some states receive a match as high as 80 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in four federal dollars) Under the proposal, states would have that rate reduced accordingly to assure all children in foster care are covered. It would not provide more federal funding but would cover all children in foster care. 

In addition the bill would, most controversially, time limit federal coverage of foster care to 36 months in a lifetime under the theory that it will drive states to move children out of foster care quicker. The last AFCARS report indicated that 18 percent of children in foster care (70,000 children) have been in foster care for 36 consecutive months or longer. The AFCARS numbers do not indicate total months in foster care if a child has had several spells in and out of foster care over that child’s lifetime. Under the legislation if a child had a cumulative total of more than three years, federal funding would be cut off. 

In another area of controversy the bill would limit institutional care to one year of federal reimbursement. Again the assumption is that a limit on federal funding will drive states to find foster care homes or other placements rather than institional care. Currently 6 percent of children are in group homes (23,000 children) and another 9 percent (34,000) are in institutional care. Again the limit is over a lifetime and the AFCARS measures current spells and not a child’s lifetime experience in care.

While the re-design in funding is based on an argument that changing federal funding will change practice, a recent GAO report shows that nearly six years after the enactment of Fostering Connections to Success, states have had difficulty in finding enough foster homes despite the mandates around keeping siblings together and have also had difficulty in youth placements. States have also been reluctant to expand foster care to age twenty-one despite the 2008 law giving states the option to expand care. A total of 19 states have extended foster care to 21 but 9 states, according to the report, had already extended care before federal funding was available.

Other provisions of the bill would expand caseworker training funds for training ‘on child-focused recruitment and retention.’ It would amend the Higher Education Act to allow child welfare workers to be eligible for loan forgiveness after five years instead of the current ten years. Current loan forgiveness applies if you are in one of a number of public service jobs including child welfare and you work in the same profession for ten years. There is also another five year loan forgiveness program in the Higher Education Act that applies to a number of professions including various teacher categories, child care and Head Start workers as well as child welfare workers but that loan forgiveness program is a discretionary funded program and appropriators have never funded it.

CWLA has expressed concerns to congressional staff regarding the imposition of arbitrary time limits.