Category Archives: House legislation

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.

House Subcommittee Looks At Child Abuse Issues On Spirit Lake Reservation

Just before Congress broke for the July 4 holiday, the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs of the Natural Resources Committee exercised its jurisdictional authority to conduct a hearing on recent child welfare and child abuse problems on the Spirit Lake reservation. Spirit Lake is an Indian reservation of approximately 6,600 residents lying within the North Dakota boarders. In recent years it has captured some national attention with a series of child deaths and the complaints of a whistleblower who has alleged abuses in regard to child protection and the operation of the child welfare system including foster care. As a result the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) stepped in and conducted an audit in 2012 which said the conditions at Spirit Lake posed an “imminent danger” to children in foster-care homes on the reservation, and those children referred to by the tribe’s child-welfare agency. The hearing was organized at the request of subcommittee member and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

Child welfare and child abuse circumstances are more complicated on Tribal land due to a confluence of factors that include a mix of law enforcement jurisdictions involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and others, the high level of poverty on some reservations, all against a backdrop of historic discrimination sometimes carrier out as a national policy. With both the BIA and the Children’s Bureau (HHS) stepping in, there are claims that circumstances have not improved over the past two years.

The two panels during the hearing included Michael S. Black, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Joo Yeun Chang, Associate Commissioner Children’s Bureau, HHS, Leander R. McDonald, PhD, Chairman Spirit Lake Tribe Fort Totten, North Dakota, Molly McDonald, Devils Lake, ND, Anita Fineday JD, Managing Director Indian Child Welfare Program, Casey Family Programs.

Mr Black said that it was “important to focus on Spirit Lake because it is an example of the serious challenges that many Indian reservations are facing.’ He went on to say that with limited resources, “challenges remain in Indian country and in many states., “ He went on to document recent cuts including those imposed through sequestration cutting over $6.2 million from BIA Human Services and $17 million from BIA Public Safety and Justice. He then went on to detail what actions the Tribe has taken to address the situation saying that they have not hide from increased scrutiny, including the use of BIA and Justice Department reviews and assistance.

Commissioner Chang spoke to some of the work of the Children’s Bureau indicating that between 2007 and 2014, ACF was involved in four reviews of the Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services department. They have also held listening sessions with various stakeholders to get a better understanding of the challenges and issues. The sessions included representatives from the Spirit Lake tribal child welfare system, including current and former social workers, current and former juvenile judges, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) staff, school district staff, North Dakota state and county human services staff, and law enforcement.

Mr. Leander McDonald outlined the challenges he is facing as they try and make changes. He highlighted the vast shortages in staffing, staff training, equipment, data capacity. He went on to say, “As Chairman, I have come to realize the complexity of this issue and the need for our law enforcement, child protection services, tribal court, and tribal social services to communicate and work together to create an exemplary system. All of the areas have been historically underfunded at approximately 60% of need resulting in a lack of capacity, inadequate services, system distrust, and gaps in the system. We struggle to provide the most basic services, but we have achieved milestones in a positive direction. I believe that given the proper resources we could build a good system for our Nation.”

In addition to Mr. McDonald’s comments, Molly McDonald, a former Associate/Juvenile Judge who served on the reservation give examples of the systematic abuses she saw and experienced in her work on the reservation.

As part of his opening remarks and comments to the panelists, Subcommittee Chairman Donald Young (R-AK) said that he wants to see progress in the work of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Children’s Bureau and if he didn’t there might be another hearing in six months implying legislative action. For the testimony and a copy of the hearing go to: Child Protection and the Justice System on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation
http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=384062