Strengthened Protections For Immigrant Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) led her Senate colleagues in the introduction of the Protection of Kids in Detention (PROKID) Act, which would improve and enforce transparency, protection, and accountability for all immigrant children in government custody. The PROKID Act would create a permanent Office of the Ombudsperson within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for ensuring that the rights afforded to children by the Flores Settlement Agreement, the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), and other relevant statutes and standards are properly enforced.

This bill is cosponsored by Senators Durbin (D-IL), Merkley (D-OR), Warren (D-MA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Booker (D-NJ).

“The separation of children from their families is barbaric and shameful. We must develop and enforce thoughtful guidelines and standards of care to ensure unaccompanied children, many of whom are fleeing unimaginable hardship in search of better lives, are treated with dignity and care when they reach our borders,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Unfortunately, under President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy, thousands of children were separated from their parents and forced to live in oppressive conditions. While we can never undo years of trauma and harm done to immigrant children seeking safety in the United States, the PROKID Act is a meaningful, long-term solution to this complex problem. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill passed and to protect the dignity of all youth.”

“We must ensure that unaccompanied children are treated with dignity and respect while in our government’s care,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Our PROKID Act provides critical tools to protect the safety and wellbeing of these children while also helping them reunite with their families whenever possible.”

“We were all heartsick to see thousands of children detained and separated from their families at the border under the Trump administration,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Senator Gillibrand and I are introducing the PROKID Act to strengthen federal oversight and ensure the wellbeing of immigrant children while in federal care.”

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, particularly vulnerable children coming to the U.S. to seek safety. When immigrant children are in government custody, it is our obligation to ensure their health and safety,” said Senator Durbin. “The PROKID Act would protect these children by establishing an office dedicated to advocating for child welfare best practices and investigating reports of legal violations and abuse. This will create more thorough oversight mechanisms for how our immigration system treats our most vulnerable.”

“Our nation must do more to advocate for and protect the rights of children who come in contact with our immigration system,” said Senator Booker. “The PROKID Act would provide a new layer of oversight and accountability to ensure that all immigrant children in any kind of government custody are treated with compassion, care, and dignity. This is one of many steps that we must take to ensure a more just immigration system that reflects the best of our nation’s values.”

“This bill would establish essential oversight to protect the rights, well-being, and safety of unaccompanied children while they are in government custody. As kids wait to be reunited with their families, a permanent office of the Ombudsperson within HHS would advocate for them, monitor for any claims of mistreatment or neglect, and hold those responsible accountable,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The PROKID Act is a necessary measure to ensure our government has the right tools and processes in place to provide a safe environment for these young immigrants.”

“Save the Children is pleased to support the PROKID Act, a vital piece of legislation that ensures children’s dignity, rights, and well-being are at the forefront of all immigration proceedings. This bill would guarantee that immigrant children in government custody are held in the least restrictive settings and that they are reunited with their families in a timely manner. This bill is perfectly aligned with Save the Children’s unwavering commitment to protecting the rights and well-being of migrant children, placing a crucial emphasis on centering their needs and interests in immigration decisions.” – Santiago Mueckay, Save the Children

“The Young Center applauds the introduction of the PROKID Act, which advances children’s rights and helps to ensure government accountability for immigrant children in government custody. As the only organization providing independent Child Advocates to unaccompanied children, we know that any time in government custody is harmful to children’s safety and wellbeing, and we are committed to fighting for a system that enshrines their best interests. Too often, children seeking safety are confronted with a prolonged period of detention and separation from family. We are grateful to Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Jayapal for leading this effort to address systemic concerns at a pivotal time; ORR is in the process of rulemaking which could potentially end judicial oversight of the UC Program and now more than ever, strong oversight is needed to protect children in federal custody.” – Mary Miller Flowers, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

Specifically, PROKID would:
1. Ensure that immigrant children are only held in government custody in the least restrictive setting;
2. Empower the Ombudsperson to advocate for the quick, safe, and efficient release of immigrant children from government custody whenever possible, including the right to review placement decisions;
3. Create an expert advisory committee made of up immigration law and child protection specialists to report on trends from the field and advise on best practices;
4. Mandate the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Homeland Security to facilitate a close working relationship and ensure visibility, allow for real-time communication, and influence policy and procedures for those children in temporary DHS custody.

The PROKID Act has been endorsed by the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, National Center for Youth Law, Prevention Institute, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Save the Children, Church World Service, Witness at the Border, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Acacia Center for Justice, National Immigrant Justice Center, Futures Without Violence, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Education Association, and Women’s Refugee Commission.

A champion for the well-being of children and families, Gillibrand has long advocated against troubling conditions at immigration facilities and for improvements to policy and procedures relating to children in government custody. In addition to leading the PROKID Act, Senator Gillibrand helped introduce landmark legislation that would take important first steps toward reforming the nation’s detention-based immigration system. Following disturbing reports from federal oversight agencies and the media of children being held for extended periods of time in unlicensed facilities, Gillibrand also called on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to immediately implement polices to speed up the reunification process for immigrant families.

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