Coalitions on the Mexico-US Border Issue Statements
June 21, 2018
The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) is releasing two statements, one by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) and one by the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV). Both organizations are addressing the immigration crisis in Texas.
Full Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) Statement:
Statement in Opposition to the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6136) and the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760)
June 20, 2018
The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault is deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of migrants—especially children who are unaccompanied or who have been separated from their families—at our state’s southern border.
Action by our leaders is desperately needed. The President has the authority to change course on his enforcement policy requiring the separation of migrant children from their families, and we urge him to do so. But in the absence of such a reversal, we urge Congress to enact legislation to prohibit family separation, promote the welfare of children, and facilitate safe, fair, and humane treatment of asylum-seekers.
Thus, we write to express serious concerns about the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, H.R. 6136 (BSIRA) and the Securing America’s Future Act, H.R. 4760 (SAFA), which may be considered in Congress as soon as this week. In addition to the grave concerns that pediatric mental health experts have repeatedly expressed about familial separation and the placement of children in long-term detention, we emphasize that [United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS)] current handling of migrant children creates a perfect storm for abuse.
Children in Detention
BSIRA and SAFA, which seek to eliminate family separation but do not concomitantly reduce or eliminate the use of detention for children, pose a serious threat to children’s welfare. This legislation would result in more youth in detention settings for longer durations, heightening their risks of trauma and abuse. Funneling children into high-risk detention settings, rather than the least restrictive housing for them and their caregivers, runs counter to internationally accepted rights of children and the basic child welfare principles recognized by the United States for the last 20 years under the Flores v. Meese agreement.
It is well-established that even in highly regulated youth detention settings, children experience alarming rates of abuse. For example, according to a 2012 Department of Justice report, one in eight youth in federal youth detention facilities reported having been sexually abused while there, and they were four times more likely to be abused by facility staff than by other youth.
However, we know that certain specific factors contribute to an increased risk of physical and sexual abuse, including deficient monitoring and oversight, inadequate staffing, overcrowding, and the mixing of children of varying levels of vulnerability.
Each of those factors disturbingly parallels what we know about the facilities in which migrant children are currently being held apart from their family members. It is clear that the facilities currently used to house children are woefully ill-equipped to care for the children in their custody, both in terms of capacity and child welfare expertise. Moreover, according to a recent Texas Tribune report, more than a dozen of the private facilities contracting with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to house migrant children, including some in Texas, have been cited for serious deficiencies ranging from failure to seek medical care for children, to staff showing up to work drunk, to sexual abuse by staff. The dangers facing children in immigration detention are, sadly, not hypothetical.
However, simply reunifying children with their families by placing children in DHS detention facilities is not a solution. In contrast to federal juvenile detention facilities, the DHS facilities in which children would need to be housed with their families under BSIRA or SAFA are not specifically regulated for the housing and care of children. Those facilities have never been designed or appropriately resourced to meet basic standards for the care of children in residential settings, and staff at those facilities are neither trained to protect and care for children nor to respond to children who have been sexually or physically abused.
Even in the best-case juvenile detention setting, children with past experiences of trauma—and associated mental health and behavioral needs—are at heightened risk of sexual and physical abuse. Because a majority of children in DHS custody have experienced past trauma, they would come to DHS facilities already with significant risk factors for victimization. State and federal juvenile detention facilities, despite their dangers, are at least required to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act by providing therapeutic resources for sexual abuse, emergency medical care, forensic medical examinations, and ongoing treatment for victims. DHS facilities are under no such regulation pertaining to children. At a bare minimum, any facility or provider responsible for the housing and care of children should be required to follow a coordinated, multidisciplinary protocol to respond to sexual and physical abuse, including working agreements with rape crisis centers, children’s advocacy centers, and other appropriate community-based service providers, to provide treatment that is consistent with the community-wide standard of care.
Yet, the DHS facilities that BSIRA or SAFA would funnel children into are not remotely equipped to provide any of the above. Our courts have recognized that fact, as has the federal government, for decades. That is why under the Flores agreement the government is required to release migrant children from detention settings without unnecessary delay and, in the meantime, hold children in the least restrictive setting available. BSIRA and SAFA would upend this crucial balance. Simply put, directing children into facilities that are not and have never been equipped to care for children would put children at a clear, direct risk of abuse within detention and have devastating health outcomes.
Reducing Victim Protections
In addition, any measure creating new obstacles to asylum or otherwise reducing the availability of victim protections will have significant humanitarian costs. Many migrants presenting at the US-Mexico border are asylum-seekers who have fled horrific carteldriven violence, human trafficking, and other physical and sexual torture. Heightening the the standard of evidence for asylum claims, as proposed in H.R. 6136, or expediting asylum claims for 14-day resolutions would result in fewer people escaping such violence, thus playing into the hands of perpetrators.
Further, various provisions of BSIRA and SAFA would roll back life-saving protections for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. For example, H.R. 4760 would eliminate the ability of abused parents of U.S. citizens to submit petitions under the Violence Against Women Act to keep their families safe from their abusers and would reduce access to Special Immigrant Juvenile status for abused and neglected children. The bill would also bar abused ex-spouses of drug traffickers from obtaining legal immigration status—a measure that would play directly into the hands of abusers who use the threat of deportation to maintain control over their victims.
It is imperative that any legislation addressing the humanitarian crisis at our southern border not only explicitly end the practice of separating children from their parents, but also minimize the placement of children in detention settings. Additionally, we must at a minimum avoid creating new obstacles for victims of abuse seeking safety from their abusers or for victims of persecution seeking asylum in our country.
Specific proposals that would promote child welfare and improve the efficiency of our immigration system include the following:
- The express prohibition of family separation
- Expanding availability of non-detention family shelters near the border
- Requiring DHS officials to consider the safety and welfare of families in any action concerning the prosecution or repatriation of individuals apprehended for immigration violations (as provided, e.g., by the Protect Family Values at the Border Act, H.R. 2572)
- Establishing a right to legal counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings (as provided, e.g., by the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, S. 2468)
- Measures to strengthen due process in immigration courts, including more judges to handle asylum caseloads
The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault is the unifying voice to eliminate sexual violence in Texas. As the statewide coalition of rape crisis centers, advocates, and survivors, we are committed to fostering a culture that respects the fundamental rights and dignity of all Texans.
Full Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) Statement:
For Immediate Release Contact: Linda Phan, Public Policy Director
Phone: 512- 685-6315
We Stand with Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence
Statement from Gloria Terry, TCFV Chief Executive Officer
The Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) joins the National Network to End Domestic Violence along with other service providers, experts, and advocacy groups across the nation in registering our strong opposition to the US Attorney General’s decision to reduce lifesaving protections for immigrants seeking refuge from violence and the Department of Homeland Security’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separates families at the border. These policies undermine the values of our nation and jeopardize the safety and well-being of thousands of people seeking safety, especially those fleeing from domestic or sexual violence.
TCFV is disheartened by the US Attorney General’s decision in the Matter of A-B, reversing years of precedent from the Board of Immigration Appeals and recognition by the Department of Homeland Security itself that survivors of domestic violence could qualify for asylum, which will have a detrimental impact on the safety of immigrant survivors fleeing violence. This more restrictive interpretation of asylum laws places already severely vulnerable populations, including survivors at risk of further harm, and undermines our progress toward addressing the unique and intersectional needs of immigrant women and children exposed to the trauma of violence. Moreover, the Department of Justice’s decision to strip protections away from prospective asylees broadcasts a detrimental message diminishing the known devastation that domestic violence causes to individuals, families, and communities.
Equally harmful is the Department of Homeland Security’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which automatically criminalizes asylum seekers upon entry. This leads to the separation of families, resulting in the infliction of unnecessary trauma on parents and children. Separating children from their sole caretaker causes irreparable damage and puts them at further risk of abuse and exploitation when placed in government facilities ill-equipped to care for young minors.
Texas is made stronger by the rich diversity of its communities. As a state coalition, TCFV remains committed to ensuring ALL survivors have access to protections, services, and justice. These government actions will have a detrimental impact on the safety of immigrant survivors in Texas and across the country. In response, TCFV stands ready to support service providers to address the needs of survivors further impacted by these policy decisions.
The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) is Kansas’ leading voice for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence. KCSDV trains professionals, works on policies and legislation, and increases awareness to prevent and eliminate sexual and domestic violence. KCSDV is a nonprofit organization in Topeka, Kansas and was founded on June 22, 1982. KCSDV is also a coalition made up of KCSDV and 27 independent, coalition member programs located across the state. Visit KCSDV’s website at http://kcsdv.org. The 24-hour, seven days a week Kansas Crisis Hotline is 888-363-2287.