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[Congressional Record: October 21, 2003 (Extensions)]
[Page E2106]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []



                            HON. ZOE LOFGREN

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, October 21, 2003

  Ms. LOFGREN. Mr. Speaker, imagine being a 9-year-old girl trying to 
escape abusive parents that eventually abandon you. Imagine having no 
choice but to escape to America with relatives who eventually get angry 
and turn you over to the immigration authorities at the age of 14. Then 
imagine being detained for over 6 months in a juvenile jail as you are 
represented by an unscrupulous attorney who doesn't even care to show 
up to your immigration hearing, leaving you to defend yourself with no 
knowledge of the law or any adult guidance. Then imagine finding out 
that the immigration judge orders you to leave the country and you have 
nowhere to go, nobody to help you, and through it all, you're all 
alone. This was the plight of Esther--a Honduran victim of abuse, 
abandoned by her parents and relatives, and left to face a complex 
immigration system at the tender age of 14.
  The sad reality is that Esther is not the only child that has 
suffered this terrible fate. This is the plight of many young girls and 
boys who travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles alone in seek 
of refuge in the United States. Some of these children are treated in a 
manner that our country usually reserves for criminals, not helpless 
victims, like fourteen-year-old Esther.
  It is true that Congress last year transferred care, custody, and 
placement of unaccompanied alien children from the Department of 
Justice to the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the 
treatment children receive when encountered at our borders. This is 
certainly a big step in the right direction and I commend the 
Department of Health and Human Services for taking important steps to 
improve the care and custody of these vulnerable children. 
Unfortunately, Health and Human Services inherited a system that relied 
upon a variety of detention facilities to house children and was given 
little legislative direction to implement their new responsibilities. 
As a result, some children from repressive regimes or abusive families 
continue to fend for themselves in a complex legal and sometimes 
punitive system, without knowledge of the English language, with no 
adult guidance, and with no legal counsel.
  Now is the time for new legislation to complete the positive steps we 
have already taken to ensure that unaccompanied alien minors are not 
locked up without any legal help or adult guidance. This is why I have 
introduced the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2003. It 
will ensure minimum standards for the care and custody of unaccompanied 
children and require a smooth transfer of minors from the Department of 
Homeland Security to the Department of Health and Human Services. It 
will also ensure that children receive adult and legal guidance as they 
navigate through our immigration system.
  Mr. Speaker, no child should be left to fend for herself in a complex 
immigration system that even you and I would fear. We need to pass the 
Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act. I urge this body to swiftly 
consider this important legislation.