U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, have proposed a potentially viable solution to help address the crisis on the Texas border.
The bipartisan, bicameral Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act is an effort to stem the tide of border crossings by dramatically speeding up the process that would return unaccompanied minors who are ineligible for refugee status to their home countries.
Unlike minors entering the U.S. from Mexico and Canada — who can be returned to their countries of origin within 48 hours of detention unless authorities determine that they may be victims of human trafficking or have a valid asylum claim — minors from noncontiguous nations are guaranteed an immigration hearing under a 2008 anti-exploitation law.
But immigration courts are overwhelmed; children can wait years for a hearing. And many never appear in court.
To help address these concerns, the Cornyn/Cuellar bill would:
• Modify the 2008 trafficking law by requiring unaccompanied minors who wish to stay in the U.S. to file a legal claim with an immigration court within a week of a mandatory health screening.
• Give a judge 72 hours to determine the minor’s eligibility status.
• Require that children not granted eligibility be quickly sent home. Those with successful claims would remain in the U.S. in the custody of a sponsor.
• Authorize the hiring of 40 new immigration judges.
This law is not a comprehensive solution. For example, it does not address the more than 50,000 migrant children detained at the border this year alone.
Some have voiced concerns about legal protections for minors seeking refugee status — questions that some congressional Democrats say should derail the bill.
While the legislation would speed up the hearing process, it does not appear to limit existing rights, including the right to counsel.
Immediate solutions to the border crisis are needed, and a message must be sent that future waves of children should not risk the journey north.
As long as the rights of these unaccompanied minors are protected, Congress should consider this bill before it breaks for August recess.