Tag Archives: Immigration

Congress Fails To Act On Unaccompanied Minors

Despite all the recent focus on unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, the Congress left for a five week break being nowhere near a consensus on how to deal with the crisis. The President who had been the subject of criticism earlier this spring for not requesting greater funding to address the growing numbers of children, was also the subject of some departing congressional criticism for asking for too much funding. In the end, the House reduced their funding even more than last week’s initial proposal, pulled a vote on that package on Thursday afternoon and then passed a slightly higher costing proposal on Friday after the Senate had left for the break. The Senate couldn’t get enough votes to break a filibuster on their package and they failed to pass a bill and by week’s end the President was still contemplating what he could or would do without Congress.

The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 change that was made to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada) but a large number of Democrats in both the Senate and House have objected to such a change.

At the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a working group of Republican House members crafted their own proposal that was set at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. By Thursday that funding had been reduced to approximately $650 million but late Thursday afternoon the House leadership pulled the bill because they didn’t have enough Republican members who would support it. The leadership issued a statement through Speaker Boehner’s office that said in part, “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action…” The statement seemed to run counter to a law suit filed a day earlier that charges the President has acted independent of congressional authority. The statement was criticized by both the White House and some conservative critics of the President. The reaction to the postponed vote delayed the House departure until Friday because many members wanted evidence that they at least voted for something. By Friday morning the package had inched up to $694 million with added money for governors to use the National Guard. They also had a vote to restrict the President’s executive authority in regard to immigrant status and issues.

On the Senate side, the progress was just as slow. Senate Democrats couldn’t break a filibuster over their legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had been guiding a $2.7 billion bill that would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also cover funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. To pass the bill would require 60 votes and some Republican support. Debate stopped when a procedural vote failed by a vote of 50 to 44. An additional part of the Senate debate was the efforts of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who had been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.

Congress is gone until September 8. The President is likely to move funding from other government programs if funding runs out before the Congress returns.

Funding to Address Unaccompanied Minors Crisis May Wait Until Fall Session

Congress will likely make this week their last week before they leave for the August break and that will happen regardless of the unaccompanied minor issue. Going into this week there are three general proposals: the President’s, the Senate’s and the House’s. It seems certain that none of them can garner enough votes to get through both houses and to the President for his signature. The House proposal was changing even more as members were leaving for the weekend.

The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) immediately rejected the President’s request and assigned a working group of Republican House members to craft their own proposal. That proposal was unveiled on Wednesday, July 23, at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. It would also require spending cuts in other areas of the budget instead of designating the spending as an emergency. It was unclear however whether there are enough Republican votes to pass the proposal with some members of the House Republican caucus feeling the proposal was not tough enough. As a result a new proposal spending less than $1 billion was gaining support among Republican House members. It would likely change some current immigration law including a repeal of the 2008 changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). There could also be a separate attempt to overcome the President’s 2012 executive order that implemented parts of the “DREAM Act” legislation that extends legal protection to some youth brought here at a young age and now successfully attending school or enrolling in the military.

The Senate, acting through the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) proposed $2.7 billion in funding and it would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also seek to target funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. It would be subject to a filibuster however and that means at least some Republican votes would be needed. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.

Congress is also confronted with several other pressing issues this week including an extension of highway funding, reaching a bipartisan reform on the Veterans Administration as well as overall appropriations. They could all be put off until September but that creates a long list for a Congress that will be desperate to leave for the 2014 election.

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.