Immigration Reform: What Do Vulnerable Kids Gain from the VAWA and TVPRA Victories?

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Immigration Reform 2013 Children jpegI’m sure you’re as focused as I am on the big prize: comprehensive immigration reform. But it’s important to remember that the relentless advocacy of countless people and groups is also resulting in incremental changes that are adding up. We’ve recently seen some massive victories that impact our work for children. Today, I’m pleased to share the voice of LIRS Director for Childrens Services Kimberly Haynes, as she looks at the concrete gains from the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and within it, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Project Associate for Outreach Luke Telander sat down with Kimberly to get her thoughts.

Luke Telander (LT): What’s your immediate reaction to the vote on VAWA?

Kimberly Haynes (KH): I’m thrilled to see the passage of VAWA and TVPRA, and we’re excited that President Obama signed them into action. After several years of advocacy and support with a coalition of partners, it’s incredible to see the success of these legislative reauthorizations that only further protect and support highly vulnerable unaccompanied alien children.

LT: How does LIRS work with trafficked individuals?  

KH: LIRS Childrens Services supports a network of partners who have implemented the unaccompanied refugee programs for the last 30 years, providing highly vulnerable refugee and unaccompanied alien children with the needed safety, protection, security, stability, and integration support. Over the last six years, LIRS’s network has provided assistance to nearly 100 child victims of trafficking, helping them successfully reintegrate into U.S. society. We’re excited that the TVPRA passage has opened an avenue of access to the unique unaccompanied refugee program for children who have no caregiver or support here in the United States,  who receive U-visas (U-visa recipients are survivors of crime here in the United States).

LT: Can you explain in brief what VAWA and TVPRA have added to the support, safety, and provision of services to unaccompanied children?

KH: What they add is enormous. In brief, they ensure:

  • That all facilities that maintain custody of unaccompanied minors comply with the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA)
  • That the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) consider alternatives to detention, utilizing a continuum of care services within a least restrictive care model allowing for these young adults to be placed in individual or organizational supervised group homes rather than being placed in adult detention
  • That further children will be supported and appointed child advocates to serve a larger proportion of the most vulnerable unaccompanied alien children populations
  • That children who receive a U-visa who do not have the available guardian or caregiver within the United States can have access to the unaccompanied refugee minor program
  • That a close study will be required to examine the effectiveness of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening of children from continuous countries and reported to the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

LT: The number of unaccompanied alien children is set to spike again this year.  How does TVPRA protect these vulnerable kids?

KH: In 2013, the federal government is anticipating that the number of unaccompanied alien children arriving to the United States will rise to an estimated 20,000, while the 2012 number for those received in the United States was some 14,000. Many of these children have suffered an enormous amount of violations against them, such as smuggling, sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. These provisions continue to support and assist those identified as trafficking victims by providing the protection and assistance necessary in order to overcome the enormous trauma suffered at the hands of traffickers, to begin a new life here in the United States, or to be safely reunified with family members within their country of origin.

LT: Are there any changes in this newest reauthorization of TVPRA that will affect your work in Childrens Services?

KH: While we don’t anticipate a large increase in referrals, given the new authorization of U-visa recipients, we are excited and appreciative that the federal government has seen the need for a safety net for these children to ensure their well-being and long-term integration into our communities.

LT: What is the number one thing you’d like to see in the next reauthorization of TVPRA?

KH: As we look to the future and continue to support the unique services that are provided to these highly vulnerable children, we anticipate needing to ensure their access to healthcare and mental health services, because they overcome tremendous atrocities and abuses that occurred in their home countries and border crossings. The costs and expenses associated should support their long-term goals and efficient and effective services by providing them access to healthcare and mental health care services essential for their long-term well-being.  Currently, those children who receive special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS), T-visas, and now U-visas, are having difficulty gaining access to Medicaid/Medicare. The next TVPRA reauthorization will need to ensure that all children who receive status are provided equal access to health and mental health services within the United States.

If you would like to add your voice to those of people standing with vulnerable kids, please click here to reach the LIRS Action Center.

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