You’ve seen the tragedy reported in the press: children are fleeing violence in record numbers from Central American countries to seek safety in the United States.
More young girls than ever before are making the dangerous trip north. Girls now make up 40% of fleeing children, and there has been a 140% increase in the number of girls under 12 apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border from 2013 to 2014.
Many have suffered sexual exploitation, gang violence, child abuse or abandonment, incest, and human trafficking in their home countries, which lack the governmental and judicial infrastructure to protect them. United States law requires that children fleeing violence be treated humanely and be granted the opportunity to make a case for legal protection, including refugee status.
Unfortunately, that is not what is happening.
Girls at our border are in desperate need of legal advocacy. Please consider making a donation today to support Tahirih’s work on behalf of girls and women seeking justice in the United States.
Many vulnerable girls who risked their lives to escape violence in their home countries are now in detention and are being placed on a “rocket docket,” which schedules their court date within days of their arrival. Without time to obtain legal counsel, they are required to decide if they wish to apply for protection, clearly articulate their story, and make their legal case.
For a child who doesn’t speak English, distrusts authority, has suffered traumatizing violence, is exhausted from her journey, and knows little about the U.S. court system, it is nearly impossible to obtain justice without an advocate.
In fact, 9 out of 10 children are deported if they do not have an attorney (compared to 1 in 4 for children with an attorney). At the same time, once a child is released from detention, her case may take 18-48 months to come to full trial and final adjudication. The immigration court system is under-resourced and experiencing delays that cause cases to be scheduled as far out as 2018.
The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed a Tahirih attorney about the difficulties of obtaining justice in these circumstances. Further troubling are attempts by members of both the executive and legislative branches to roll back existing critical legal protections for unaccompanied children.
Tahirih Justice Center is on the front lines. Our public policy team is responding in Washington, DC to protect the children, and our Houston office is scrambling to meet the needs of girls arriving at their doors for help.
Their stories are tragic. Knowing the frequency of rape in transit, girls’ families are sending them on their journey with birth-control injections. Our Houston Director Anne Chandler remarked, “It is at a point where, if we don’t see girls who have suffered sexual violence, we are surprised.”
I want to take a moment to let you know what we’re doing to protect these vulnerable immigrant children, and let you know how you can impact their lives. We are:
- Influencing the White House. On Aug. 7, Tahirih was one of just a few NGO representatives selected to offer White House officials proposals for administrative action that would help streamline the immigration system.
- Protecting laws designed to safeguard children. In early July, after the Obama administration requested $3.7B to address the refugee flow and recommended undoing areas of the law that protect immigrant children, Tahirih submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on the Senate to recognize that jailing and rapidly deporting unaccompanied, unrepresented children would be inhumane. As a result of public opposition, these provisions were not approved.
- Fighting legislation that would harm children and survivors of violence. In late July, the House passed a new supplemental bill that significantly reduces funds allocated to the care of the children and instead focuses entirely on rapid deportation. In addition, it rolls back key legal protections for immigrant children currently in place. We are working alongside our coalition partners to ensure that these measures do not gain traction in the Senate.
- Training pro bono attorneys who want to help refugee children access justice. Tahirih Houston recently partnered with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, the Houston Bar Association, and numerous other private and public organizations to host a free continuing education seminar on unaccompanied minors that reached an estimated 500 legal and law enforcement professionals in Houston.
- Providing legal defense for unaccompanied refugee girls. Tahirih staff and pro bono partners are providing free legal and social services for immigrant girls fleeing violence. In Houston, we are increasing our staff and capacity to help more girls.
In an effort to respond to the crisis, our resources are being spread thin. Please help us during this tragic time of need.
It costs $5,000 to save the life of a girl, providing full legal representation and critical social and medical services. Please consider supporting a girl’s full needs at this Lifesaver level.
If you have a child, your donation can be made in her or his name. Your gift will transform the life of a girl who has done everything in her power to reject violence.