A recently published Mother Jones article highlights the current child refugee crisis in the US, telling the story of the tens of thousands of children from Central America fleeing violence and risking their lives to enter the country without an adult. The piece includes the story of one gay teen, known pseudonymously as Adrián, who fled gang violence in Guatemala, encountering anti-gay attacks along his journey and homophobic abuse in a US shelter.
The surge in public attention on child refugees comes in light of President Obama’s call to Congress for $3.7 billion dollars in additional funding to increase border security and resources for processing children and families through deportation proceedings. This humanitarian crisis has many dimensions: the unaddressed causes of the violence in Central America, the urgent need for decent shelter and legal help for these young people, the ugly xenophobic calls to deport them without due process.
While little is known about how many of these unaccompanied youth are LGBT, we know that—like Adrián’s story—being LGBT can make them more vulnerable to abuse and violence. As part of the National Center for Transgender Equality’s commitment to advocating for vulnerable LGBT people in all forms of confinement, we’ve joined the Women’s Refugee Commission, Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services, the ACLU, Just Detention International, and others in advocating with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) over the last two years on protecting unaccompanied immigrant youth from abuse in government custody.
More than two years after federal regulations were issued under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) for other juvenile facilities, the dozens of shelters that house child refugees for months at a time are still waiting for similar rules. With the Houston Chronicle reporting on dozens of instances of abuse in ORR custody in recent years, there has been little transparency on how these past reports have been handled or what mechanisms are being put in place now. And with long-overdue PREA regulations still pending, it’s not clear how ORR will ensure new rules for training, screening, youth placement, reporting, investigations, staffing, and record-keeping are actually followed.
NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin said, “As a nation of immigrants and one committed to freedom, we must provide these youth due process and legal counsel at a bare minimum, and seek to address the violence that has brought them here.” Tobin added, “At the same time, just as we’ve done and continue to do with other types of government custody, we’ll continue working with our partners to ensure that these youth are not further harmed in our care.”