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The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) added provisions that govern the rights of unaccompanied alien children who enter the United States. It amended the strengthened federal trafficking laws in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
TVPRA outlines key legal procedures for unaccompanied children from contiguous (countries sharing a common border) and noncontiguous countries. Children from Mexico and Canada must be screened within 48 hours of apprehension to determine whether the child has been subject to trafficking or is susceptible to trafficking.
The screening also reviews whether the child has a credible fear of returning to their home country, and if the child is able to make the decision to petition for voluntary departure.
If an immigration officer determines that a child has to be sent back to Mexico or Canada, they must be returned to appropriate employees or officials, such as a child welfare agency, and during reasonable business hours.
Children from noncontiguous states must be referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours for screening. They will then be placed in the “least restrictive setting possible” as they await a court hearing. At times the child will be sent to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter with an appointed sponsor, usually a parent or family member, or be placed in long-term foster care. The location is decided based on the setting that will best protect a child from “mistreatment, exploitation, and trafficking.”
The TVPRA includes other legal protections for unaccompanied children including access to counsel, legal orientation presentations for the child’s caregivers, and child advocates for trafficked and vulnerable children. Considering that children can apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), the law adjusted its requirements for SIJS, requiring a child to prove that one parent abused, neglected, or abandoned the child.
See the history of human trafficking legislation.