A new report Amnesty International found that the Biden administration quickly deported thousands of unaccompanied Mexican migrant children to the US-Mexico border without conducting adequate checks to determine if they were eligible for protection in the US

The report, released Friday, accuses the Biden administration of circumventing an anti-trafficking law to quickly deport unaccompanied minors to Mexico, while allowing unaccompanied minors from Central America and other countries to seek refuge in the USA.

Report follows on from Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip this weekin Guatemala and Mexico, where she discussed migration from Central America and urged Central American migrants not to travel to the US-Mexico border.

In March, Biden vowed to stop deporting unaccompanied minors from the United States. “The only people we’re not going to leave sitting alone on the other side of the Rio Grande without help are the children,” he said.

But Mexican children are the exception, according to the report.

The report claims that the Biden administration is misusing an anti-trafficking law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to “promptly repatriate” children from Mexico entering the United States. The anti-trafficking law has provisions for children from “contiguous countries” – countries bordering the United States, Mexico, and Canada – that are different from provisions for migrant children from non-contiguous countries of origin.

When apprehended at the border, children in Mexico or Canada must be screened within 48 hours to determine whether they have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked in their country of origin. have a credible fear of returning to their country of origin, or whether they can make an independent decision to leave the country and abandon their immigration application, known as “voluntary departure”.

“The most shocking thing our report reveals about US policy and practice is that over 95% of unaccompanied Mexican children apprehended by the US border patrol are summarily returned to Mexico without adequate consideration for harm. that they might face, ”Brian Griffey, a regional researcher and Amnesty International advisor who wrote the report, told The Arizona Republic.

Griffey said U.S. customs and border protection officials, instead of child protection specialists, were interviewing unaccompanied Mexican children to determine if they were at risk of harm or if they were victims. trafficking in human beings. “If they’re neither, they can give them the option to ‘come back voluntarily’,” Griffey said. “So if you talk to border officials, they’ll consider it voluntary returns, but it’s not very voluntary. “

Mexican children turned away by CBP after crossing border, report says

Unlike adults crossing borders, who remain in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, unaccompanied minors entering the United States are typically referred to the Refugee Resettlement Office (ORR) of the Department of Health and Human Services. . Children remain in ORR shelters pending immigration procedures that determine whether or not they can stay in the United States or must return to their country of origin.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, Title 42, a public health rule restricting the treatment of migrants detained at the border, came into effect. This meant that US immigration authorities began to turn back the majority of migrants arriving at the border. Last November, a federal judge blocked the application of Title 42 to unaccompanied migrant children, allowing them to enter the United States.

However, Amnesty International’s report says the exception does not apply to Mexican children, who are deported under the anti-trafficking law provision for contiguous countries.

“CBP bypasses immigration procedures and just sends the children back to Mexico, but doing a ‘voluntary return’ of them,” Griffey said, adding that the report found that out of 100 children surveyed, about half said that they had not been questioned about their fear of returning to their country of origin or whether they had been trafficked.

According to the report, on May 25, Customs and Border Protection told Amnesty International that they had carried out more than 10,000 repatriations of unaccompanied Mexican children arrested by the border patrol from last November to April. “This compares to just 465 referrals of unaccompanied Mexican children to child protection specialists at ORR after arrests during the same period,” the report said.

The Biden administration has confirmed the use of this policy to deport Mexican children.

“The current policy for Mexican unaccompanied minors is that they be repatriated through this process,” said Vedant Patel, deputy White House press secretary and immigration adviser.

The report states that in March 2020, the director of a migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora – the Mexican border town across from Nogales, Arizona – claimed that Mexican authorities received and brought to the shelter “an average of five children. Mexicans repatriated daily, mainly Indigenous children from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona called the report’s findings “disturbing.”

“The countless stories of men, women and children seeking safety and protection in our country – only for many to be turned away – make it clear that the US asylum system must change,” said Marcela Taracena, group communications director. a written declaration to the Republic. “We must build an asylum system that is humane and fair.”

Kids in Need of Defense, an immigration advocacy organization for unaccompanied children, shared a similar sentiment.

“Unaccompanied children, regardless of their origin, must be properly screened at the US-Mexico border to ensure that those who fear return or are at risk of being trafficked have a fair chance to access the process described in the protection of victims of trafficking. Reauthorization Act of 2008 which allows them to seek protection from the United States, ”said Jennifer Podkul, vice president of policy and advocacy.

Podkul added that placing child protection professionals in customs and border protection facilities “would ensure that only children are treated by child protection experts and therefore are not referred to the danger and the damage they fled ”.

Harris and Mayorkas work with Mexico to curb migration from Central America

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma in Mexico City.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico on her first overseas trip since taking office in January. The trip aimed to address the root causes of the region’s migration to the United States. But his remarks at a press conference on Monday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei drew fire from defenders and elected officials from left and right.

“I want to be clear with the locals who are considering taking this dangerous trip to the US-Mexico border: don’t come. Don’t come, ”said Harris.

Harris met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday in Mexico City, where the two discussed immigration from the Northern Triangle – the region comprising El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – to the United States via Mexico. They signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at curbing migration from the region.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will travel to Mexico to work out the details of the plan with representatives of the Mexican government, which Griffey, the author of the Amnesty International report, said will continue hostilities against the migrants.

“Essentially, Vice President Harris and the administration promise a continuation of this deceptive rhetoric that criminalizes migration and asylum seeking and seeks to legitimize the illegal removal of those at risk,” he said.

Customs and border protection said their screening practices comply with anti-trafficking law.

“If there is a suspicion of human trafficking or allegations of fear, the border patrol refers the unaccompanied child to the Department of Health and Social Services and to Homeland Security investigations, if applicable,” said said a spokesperson for CBP in a written statement to the Republic. “In cases where there is no suspicion of human trafficking or fear of fear, unaccompanied children of Mexican nationality are treated for voluntary return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries are transferred to health and social services in accordance with the Protection of Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act. “