Rep. Cicilline meets with Central American ambassadors on child immigration issue

providencejournal.com
Thursday, July 24, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the United States continues to grapple with the influx of unattended children crossing the nation’s borders, federal lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, met with ambassadors of the Central American countries from where the children are fleeing.

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Rhode Island Democrat was one of roughly 10 members to attend a meeting Tuesday with Ambassador of the Republic of El Salvador Francisco Altschul, Ambassador of the Republic of Guatemala Julio Ligorria and Ambassador of the Republic of Honduras Jorge Milla Reyes.

The former Providence mayor said the ambassadors demonstrated successes, particularly in El Salvador, which is undergoing a robust campaign to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of sending children across the border with smugglers known as “coyotes.” They’re also providing education on U.S. immigration policies.

“These are desperate countries where there is grave concern about the ability to survive, and these coyotes’ are playing on the desperation of the parents,” Cicilline said.

In Guatemala, officials have learned they have more success educating residents through trusted members of the community, rather than efforts of officials.

A 2008 law intended to combat human trafficking makes it illegal to send unattended children back to countries that are not contiguous with the United States. The law requires placing the children from noncontiguous countries, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, with family or in other residences while they await an immigration court date. The minors are guaranteed access to legal counsel and child advocates. Meanwhile, children from contiguous countries — Mexico and Canada — are returned to their home countries almost immediately.

“We should be doing everything we can to ensure we’re not sending children back into the hands of traffickers,” Cicilline said.

Arguing that the law is burdensome and the country’s system is overwhelmed, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation this month that would essentially establish the same process for all children, doing away with the mandated legal process for Central American children.

All four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, however, oppose the change.

Through spokespersons, U.S. Rep. James Langevin and U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse said they support using emergency funding to deal with the cases quickly — not overhauling the 2008 law.

“Senator Reed is concerned that a rush to change the 2008 law could have unintended consequences that may curtail our ability to fight international sex traffickers and child exploitation,” spokesman Chip Unruh said.

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