Subject: Help Protect Vulnerable Asylum-Seeking Children and Families
I believe that children need to be safe and protected, regardless of where they are from or their migration status. I am particularly concerned that recent border practices in response to COVID-19 deny children and families critical protection screenings and their legal right to seek international protection, such as asylum. Recent reports indicate that more than 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been turned away from the border and forcibly returned to Mexico and Central America since early March.
Many of these children and families fled their homes to escape gang-related violence, extortion and forced recruitment that threatened their lives and integrity. They are being forcibly returned to countries already severely limited in shelter capacity, health services and child protection systems, where conditions and safety risks are now even worse due to the coronavirus. These returns threaten children's lives.
I understand that our Nation must take measures to protect public health in this pandemic. However, in all circumstances the U.S. Government must protect the safety and best interests of all children, regardless of migration status. It is never in a child's best interests to be sent back to an unsafe situation. Protecting public health and protecting children go hand in hand.
I strongly urge the U.S. Government to implement the following policies immediately, to protect children from both the coronavirus and from unsafe situations:
- Provide all migrant children and families at the U.S. border with appropriate health screening, testing and quarantine protocols that preserve family unity, ensuring that such protocols protect children's psychological and physical health.
- Temporarily suspend all deportations, as receiving countries cannot guarantee the protection, health and safety of returnees, especially children.
- Ensure that all migrant children and families can apply for asylum or other protections and have access to U.S. territory throughout their proceedings.
- Ensure that unaccompanied children get trafficking and protection screenings and get access to the system of care set up to care for them until they can be promptly released to a sponsor.
- Promptly release migrant children and families held in detention facilities into non-custodial alternatives to detention, while following strict safeguards to prevent and respond to COVID-19, in coordination with community-based actors to ensure children and families access critical essential services. Parents must never have to choose between being detained with their children indefinitely in harmful conditions or separate from their children.
- Increase U.S. Government support to rapidly and significantly improve COVID-19-related prevention and mitigation responses in Mexico and Central America, and to support child protection systems as essential for all vulnerable children including migrants and refugees.
As the United States and the world at large confront this unprecedented crisis, we cannot allow fear to undermine human rights and put children at risk.
I look forward to your response.