Rep. Nadler: Republican Immigration Bill Subjects Unaccompanied Minors Seeking Asylum to Cross-Examination by ICE Attorneys About Sexual Abuse and Violence

Jun 21, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. --Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, offered an amendment during the committee’s markup of H.R. 495, an immigration bill that subjects unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States to increased interrogation before being granted entry. The Nadler amendment would strike Section 4 of the bill, which requires unaccompanied minors to defend their asylum claims before an adversarial proceeding in immigration court rather than being processed by a specially trained asylum officer, as is the current practice.

“H.R. 495, the so-called Protection of Children Act, would subject children to rigorous cross-examination by an ICE trial attorney in open court about their past traumas, which may include sexual abuse, child abuse and other violent experiences,” said Congressman Nadler. “And since there is no guarantee of legal representation, these children—many of them small children—would be forced to defend themselves in an intimidating adversarial setting.  How does that amount to ‘Protection of Children’?”

Below is Rep. Nadler’s full statement, as prepared:

"Mr. Chairman, this amendment would strike section 4 of the bill, a particularly obnoxious provision that fails to recognize the inherent difference between children and adults.

"Under current law, when an unaccompanied minor is apprehended, his or her asylum claim is initially presented to a CIS officer in a non-adversarial proceeding, rather than to a judge in immigration court.  If the application is denied, he or she still has the opportunity to present the claim to an immigration judge at a later proceeding.  But the initial determination is made by a specially trained asylum officer in plain clothes, in an office setting, which is more appropriate for unaccompanied—and often unrepresented—children.

"This important protection was contained in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which was signed into law by President Bush in 2008.  The so-called “Protection of Children Act,” however, which would, in fact, do nothing of the kind, would strike this provision, and would require children to present their initial claims in an adversarial proceeding in immigration court, as if they were adults.

"But they are not adults.  Congress recognized that children are developmentally different from adults, and they must be treated differently.  They have different levels of cognition, of language skills, of emotional development, and maturity of judgment.  That is why CIS guidelines require an asylum officer to conduct “child-appropriate interviews taking into account age, stage of language development, background, and level of sophistication.”

"This bill, however, would subject children to rigorous cross-examination by an ICE trial attorney in open court about their past traumas, which may include sexual abuse, child abuse and other violent experiences.  And since there is no guarantee of legal representation, these children—many of them small children—would be forced to defend themselves in an intimidating adversarial setting.  How does that amount to “Protection of Children”?

"Many of these children have escaped unspeakable violence and horror in their home countries, and they have risked their lives to find safety in the United States.  They are scared, alone, and likely do not speak English.  It is absurd to expect them to represent themselves in an intimidating formal legal proceeding.

"It is not a loophole when we treat children like children.   It is the protection that a civilized society grants to the most vulnerable people among us.  My amendment asks for no greater protection than is already provided under current law.  We should leave the present system in place and continue to treat children in a reasonable and humane fashion.

"I urge support for the amendment and I yield back the balance of my time."

###