Lawmakers propose bill to speed up deportation of undocumented children

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) on Tuesday introduced a bill they say would solve the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children at the border by expediting the processing of minors to send them back to their home countries.

The bill is entitled Helping Unaccompanied Children and Alleviating National Emergencies Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act (HUMANE).

These are the key points of the proposal:

Creates a modified expedited removal process for any unaccompanied alien child. This special process would work as follows:

- Within 48 hours after an unaccompanied minor is apprehended, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must assess the child to determine whether the child has been or may be a victim of human trafficking, whether the child has a credible reason to return to his or her home country, or whether the child wishes to return voluntarily to his or her home country.

- If CBP determines that the minor has a legitimate reason to remain in the United States, the minor will be released to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and must appear before an immigration court.

- The juveniles will have their immigration court hearing within 7 days after they have been processed by ORR.

- A maximum period of 72 hours would be established for an immigration judge to decide whether an unaccompanied minor must be deported or can remain in the U.S. to apply for an immigration benefit in front of the immigration court. The judge's decision cannot be appealed.

- If the child has expressed fear of returning to his or her home country, the child will be referred to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer who will determine whether the child has a credible fear.

- If the asylum officer determines that the minor has a credible fear of returning to his or her home country, the minor will be referred to the immigration court to formally file his or her asylum application.

- If the asylum officer determines that the minor does NOT have a credible fear of returning to his or her home country, the minor will be deported from the U.S. unless the minor requests that the asylum officer's decision be reviewed by an immigration judge.

- If the immigration judge upholds the asylum officer's decision, the minor will be deported from the U.S. as soon as possible since the judge's decision cannot be appealed.

- If the immigration judge does not agree with the asylum officer's decision, the minor may apply for asylum in front of the immigration court.

- The child must remain in the custody of ORR while his or her application for asylum or other immigration benefits is being decided before the immigration court.

- The child shall not be entitled to legal representation paid for by the Federal Government.

2. Authorizes the appointment of 40 new immigration judges to handle unaccompanied minor cases.

3. It would require ORR to investigate the background of the person to whom a minor is released. This would include processing their fingerprints.

4. Prohibits a minor from being given into the custody of a person who has been convicted of human trafficking or sexual offenses.

5. Directs the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to create and report on a strategy to better understand the border crisis and gain operational control of the border and implement a biometric exit system.

6. Expands and authorizes the operation of U.S. National Guard units, authorizes increases in CBP personnel, and directs technology upgrades along the southern border.

Cuellar and Cornyn's proposal is intended to amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), passed in 2008 under President George W. Bush.

This law prevents the expedited deportation of undocumented migrant children who are not from countries bordering the United States.

Currently, the government can immediately deport certain undocumented children from Mexico or Canada, because they are countries that share a border with the United States. But in the case of children from other countries, it is up to an immigration judge to decide whether or not they should be deported, something that can take months before a determination is made.

Pro-immigrant groups, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association of which I am a member, oppose the HUMANE project for several reasonsincluding the following:

1. The bill removes existing legal protections for unaccompanied minors from countries that do not border the US.

2. CBP has a history of deficiencies in assessing individuals who express a fear of returning to their country of origin.

3. Immigration laws are complicated and a child cannot be expected to fend for himself in expedited deportation proceedings.

The HUMANE bill must pass the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for it to become effective. Already, the Congressional Democratic Caucus has said it does not support the initiative because it believes it punishes and criminalizes children.

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