First passed in 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) strengthened federal trafficking laws and added provisions that govern the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children who enter the United States. The bill was most recently reauthorized in 2018.
TVPRA outlines key legal procedures for unaccompanied children from contiguous and noncontiguous countries. Children from Mexico and Canada must be screened within 48 hours of apprehension to determine whether the child has been trafficked or is susceptible to trafficking; whether the child has a credible fear of returning to their home country; and perhaps most critically, whether the child is able to make the decision to petition for voluntary departure.
Children from noncontiguous states must be referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours for screening. They’ll then be placed in the “least restrictive setting possible” as they await a court hearing. That could be an ORR shelter, with an appointed sponsor (usually a parent or family member), or in long-term foster care — whichever setting will best protect a child from “mistreatment, exploitation, and trafficking.”
The TVPRA also 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.