RELEASE – Nebraska groups urge Congress to protect children seeking safety

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For Immediate Release

Contact, Jeff Sheldon
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
Office: (402) 438-8853
Mobile: (402) 840-7289
jsheldon@neappleseed.org
 
Dawn Bashara
Justice For Our Neighbors – Nebraska
Office: 402-898-1349
Mobile: 402-215-1498
dawn@jfon-ne.org

Nebraska Groups Urge Members of Congress To Protect Children Seeking Safety

Today, a group of more than a dozen Nebraska organizations released a set of principles that they hope the Nebraska Congressional delegation will consider when deliberating how to address the humanitarian situation involving children fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek safe refuge in the United States.

These groups strongly urge our policymakers to create a proposal that lives up to our values of compassion and humanity, and in all decisions relating to the children, emphasizes the children’s best interests.

“As policy makers debate the best way to address the humanitarian crisis along the border, it is absolutely crucial that the integrity of the legal system be maintained,” said Emiliano Lerda, executive director of Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska. “Efforts to expedite the process cannot come at the cost of depriving children their due process rights or their rights to protection from persecution under U.S. and international law.”

“As the rest of the world looks to us as an example, the first priority for our policymakers must be to ensure the safety of these children,” said Francys Chavez of Unity In Action, a South Sioux City-based community organization. “Many of them have fled a dangerous situation and survived a perilous journey to seek the chance to grow up in a safe community. Congress and our leaders must act responsibly to guarantee them a fair process that we give others who are eligible for humanitarian protection.”

“We have a legal and moral obligation to protect these children,” said Omaid Zabih, staff attorney at Nebraska Appleseed. “We call on our policymakers to maintain the protections currently in place and ensure that these children have a chance to tell their stories and apply for any relief for which they might be eligible. We also urge that these children are placed in family settings when possible and have access to legal representation as their cases proceed.”

The principles released by the groups are:

Increase funding to relevant federal agencies to ensure adequate resources are available for proper screening, placement, and services. Congress should make certain there are a sufficient number of properly trained officials or child welfare professionals – with experience in dealing with traumatized children – who have necessary legal training to ensure there are individualized determinations for all children seeking humanitarian and legal relief.

Preserve legal and due process protections in the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, and reject proposals to circumvent these protections that would expedite the removal of children, many of whom could have asylum or legal relief claims. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 60 percent of children could be available for humanitarian protection. Any bill from Congress that seeks to eliminate these protections jeopardizes the lives of vulnerable children seeking safe refuge in the United States. Children who have just endured a traumatic journey to the United States are particularly vulnerable and should not undergo an accelerated and cursory screening process by Border Patrol agents, who will likely have little to no legal training to identify asylum and refugee claims.

Provide sufficient legal resources that guarantee children have access to an attorney to represent them. It is critical to ensure that the children’s best interests are fully represented since many, if not all, children won’t understand their rights or the legal process, and may be fearful or embarrassed to tell their story to a court. Therefore, it is important that children have an access to an attorney. Congress should also devote funding to increase the number of judges and asylum officers to reduce the backlog for children currently in immigration proceedings and status-determination hearings.

Children should be placed into community-based settings whenever possible with parents, relatives, or other suitable sponsors, instead of detention facilities. If community-based care is not available, then children should be placed in proper settings that adequately provide for their needs. Therefore, funding for additional detention facilities should not be a priority because they are not the preferred setting for children.

Incorporate a best interests of the child standard in all proceedings and decisions. This would guarantee that the child’s best interests is the primary factor in all decisions related to the child’s health, safety, and care, along with considerations regarding humanitarian relief.

Develop policies and provide assistance to address the violence and insecurity in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Such reforms and initiatives should invest in systems that will improve safety conditions and establish productive opportunities for children in these countries.

The list of groups who have signed on to these recommendations are:

ACLU of Nebraska

American Immigration Lawyers Association – Iowa/Nebraska Chapter

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha

Center for People in Need

Creighton Center for Service and Justice

Inclusive Communities

Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska

Latino American Commission

Latino Center of the Midlands

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

Nebraska Appleseed

The Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) at the University of Nebraska Omaha

Omaha Together One Community

Unity in Action

Women’s Center For Advancement

YWCA Adams County

YWCA of Grand Island

YWCA Lincoln

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