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Professor Randi Mandelbaum Co-Authors Letter to Congress on Experts’ Concerns About Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

July 24, 2014 – 

More than 50 child welfare experts from around the country have urged Congress to reject legislative proposals to eliminate current protections for unaccompanied children and youth from Central America.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, practitioners in law, psychology, social work and other social sciences with expertise in child development, child welfare and child advocacy argue that the proposals “would subject Central American children to an expedited screening process that fails to take into account their youth and vulnerability” and that would be “inconsistent with our treatment of children in the U.S. legal system and would set a dangerous precedent for children’s law in the United States.”

The letter was co-authored by Randi Mandelbaum, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark, and Jane M. Spinak, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Adolescent Representation Clinic at Columbia Law School. 

The child welfare experts’ concerns stem from proposals that would eliminate the current legal processes for Central American children and youth that were implemented in 2008 through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The proposals would instead permit a young person to sign a document waiving his or her right to seek entry to the United States following an expedited screening process similar to that currently conducted for children from contiguous countries.

“We know,” the letter states, “that the expedited screening process for Mexican unaccompanied children is not effective and returns children to Mexico even though they actually fear persecution and/or were trafficked. This model must not be replicated for Central American children and, in fact, the model for Mexican children should be revised in order to prevent the expedited removal of Mexican children to situations where they may face harm.”

The letter concludes that, “if lawmakers are genuinely seeking to learn the truth as to whether a child has been trafficked, is fearful of harm, and is capable of making a voluntary, independent, and informed decision about whether to withdraw his or her application to enter the United States,” the legal process for unaccompanied immigrant children must recognize child and adolescent developmental challenges, the impact of trauma, language and educational barriers, and the need for child-focused screening practices.

Read the letter.