Since last October, U.S. border patrol has apprehended more than 52,000 unaccompanied children fleeing extreme violence from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Maria* was 12 years old when she was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a home where she was held captive. She was beaten and raped on an almost daily basis and eventually forced into prostitution. Because of this she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl while held in slavery. Maria fled with her baby to the United States, riding on top of trains, so that they might escape the sexual bondage.
Sadly, Maria is not alone -- many unaccompanied children flee to the US every year with nowhere else to turn. These unaccompanied children are also at risk of being trafficked, which is why legal provisions in place since 2008 ensure these children are afforded basic legal advice and access to support.
Congress has introduced legislation that would deport children to their home countries without meaningful screening. Sending these children back to extreme violence is an effective death sentence. The U.S. has the responsibility to protect these children from murder, rape, and human trafficking.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 is the law that strengthens protections for unaccompanied children and ensures these kids are afforded basic legal protections. It does not provide additional immigration benefits -- only time and process to identify children already entitled to relief.
Children like Maria clearly need protection, care and rehabilitation: yet this new proposal would see them stripped of their rights and turned away at our borders. Changes to the TVPRA would jeopardize the lives of children seeking refuge in the United States. Rolling back the law is not the right answer. Forcing vulnerable children back into dangerous or deadly situations is simply too high a cost to pay. Tell Senator Reid to protect trafficked and persecuted children and stand with the TVPRA.
*Maria is not her real name