WASHINGTON- The Trafficking and Victims Protection Act of 2008 (TVPRA) introduced by George W. Bush governed the rights of unaccompanied children who crossed the Southern Border. The Act ensured the preservation of legal provisions, and recommendations to strengthen protections for child migrants according to a report by Rricha Mathur and Wendy Cervantes, former writers for First Focus On Children, a website dedicated on supporting,
protecting and providing information and relief for children. Initially, the U.S. Border officials would separate children from the person or people they cross the border with to run tests and see if the child is crossing with biological parents or if the child is being used to traffic drugs into North America. The process enabled DNA tests to be conducted by border security to ensure the child and the adult they are with are biologically related and to determine that the child was not stolen and used to transport narcotics and other illegal contraband into the United States by drug lords or coyotes. The Act was developed by the Bush administration to find the biological parents and to stop traffickers from delivering narcotics and weapons through a child who would remain unsuspecting to the border patrol (NPR). The laws put in place in the last decade by the Bush administration have changed with each passing administration and additions were made to provide the best assistance available.
During separation, children were given "smelly" food, cold sandwiches and were identified by their first names only according to Amy Taxin, a reporter for the Associated Press (AP). Past presidencies like the Obama administration have also detained child migrants, withholding them from their families NPR reports.
To further protect children who crossed the border into the States, the Trump administration introduced “The Zero-tolerance policies” as part of Trump's immigration policies meant to deter illegal immigration and encourage stricter legislation. The initial trial period for these policies was intended to not allow for border officials to use excessive physical force or other harsh methods when separating families at the border.
“If you cross the border unlawfully then we will prosecute you,” Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during an interview with the Washington Post. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
The Trump administration replaced Sessions a month before implementation of the Zero Tolerance Policy due to the comments he made during his interview. Following the interview, Attorney General William Barr succeeded Sessions as Attorney General.
Research by the Federal government and border patrol found nothing was in place to allow for families who were separated to be reunited. In response to the lack of reuniting families, President Trump then signed an executive order which discontinued family separations by border officials at the border.
"There is no law mandating the separation of families" Miriam Valverde, contributor for PolitiFact.com wrote in her article, "What you need to know about the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy."
Issues regarding child safety while crossing into the States remain. There are conflicting reports by Homeland Security members and those who report on children kept at the border sites for extended periods. With each change in administration, immigration seemed to be a broad topic of political and social discussion. Child immigration and trafficking is a hot topic which is not easily solved, serving as a continuous debate within each administration as they strategize for a possible solution.
By Alex Fernandez