February 24, 2021

Cortez Masto, Gillibrand, Jayapal Introduce Bill to Safeguard Immigrant Children in Government Custody

Washington, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) along with U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) led their Senate and House colleagues in introducing the Protection of Kids in Detention (PROKID) Act, legislation that would provide a new, stronger layer of oversight to ensure and enforce transparency, protection, and accountability for all immigrant children in any kind of government custody.

 “The world watched in disbelief as the Trump Administration inhumanely separated children from their parents at our southern border,” said Senator Cortez Masto.“We’re still seeing the consequences of those actions in the countless children dealing with trauma they will carry for the rest of their lives and in the more than 600 children who are still separated from their parents with no clear path to reuniting with their families. I’m proud to introduce this bill alongside my colleagues to ensure that this never happens again, regardless of who’s in the White House, and to build the necessary protections to make sure unaccompanied children have a safe environment while in our government’s care.”

“The separation of children from their families is barbaric and shameful. While we can’t undo years of trauma and harm done to immigrant children and their families seeking safety in the United States, the PROKID Act is a meaningful, long-term solution to this complex problem,” said Senator Gillibrand. “By building the necessary structure to develop thoughtful guidelines and standards of care for individuals, families, and children, we can ensure that these children and families, many of whom are fleeing unimaginable hardship is search of better lives, are treated with dignity and care when they reach our borders.”

“As someone who came to America alone at the age of 16 before starting the largest immigrant rights organization in Washington state, I know that we have to do far more than just reverse the cruel, xenophobic policies of the Trump administration that led to families being separated, children being caged, and their best interests being ignored,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “I am proud to help introduce the PROKID Act to ensure that these torturous policies never happen again, to create a permanent Office of the Ombudsperson who will advocate for the dignity and respect of children in our care, and to finally establish real oversight, transparency, and accountability measures for how young immigrants are treated in this country.”

BACKGROUND:

The PROKID Act creates of a permanent Office of the Ombudsperson within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to act as an advocate, subject-matter expert, and independent authority 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 are properly recognized, applied and enforced.

Specifically, PROKID will:

  • Ensure that immigrant children are only held in government custody in the least restrictive setting;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Mandate the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Homeland Security to facilitate a close working relationship and ensure visibility, real-time communication, and influence policy and procedures for those children in temporary DHS custody.

Over two dozen groups have endorsed the PROKID Act, including the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Vera Institute of Justice, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Women's Refugee Commission, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), The Young Center, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Refugees International, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, HIAS, New York Immigration Coalition, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, National Employment Law Project, Save the Children Action Network, First Focus on Children, MomsRising/MamásConPoder, Advocates for Human Rights, America’s Voice, Hispanic Federation, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Center for Victims of Torture, Bridges Faith Initiative, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), Oxfam, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), ChildFund, and Church World Service (CWS).

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are also original co-sponsors.

Read the text of the bill here.

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