RAICES' largest program provides free legal information, referrals and direct representation for unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Given our proximity to the U.S. Mexico border, our Children's Program provides services to thousands of children each year.Over the summer of 2014, RAICES staff provided confidential screenings to more than 2,200 unaccompanied children at Joint Base Lackland Air Force Base and determined that at least 63% of the children had strong claims for humanitarian relief from deportation. RAICES sent a letter to President Obama, along with House and Senate leaders, sharing this finding and asking them to defend the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act (TVPRA), which protects due process and provides enhanced humanitarian protections to some unaccompanied minors, many of whom are abused, abandoned and/or neglected.
RAICES' work on the ground has helped influence the national discourse on issues affecting these children; on July 29, 2014 our Executive Director, Jonathan Ryan, joined by three unaccompanied minors from Central America, testified before a Congressional hearing on the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Mr. Ryan also met individually with congressional members and staff who had expressed their interest in RAICES’ letter to the President and our legal findings at Lackland. The data we were able to gather directly supported the change in discourse towards the treatment of these vulnerable populations, and RAICES is recognized as an important partner in the effort to protect the rights of unaccompanied migrants.
Our Children's Program currently has ## attorneys on staff, with new offices recently opened in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, in an effort to meet the legal needs of these children. Despite at least 63% of these children qualifying for some form of protections, without the proper legal support, less than 1% of these children have an actual chance at succeeding in their claims.
Here in the United States, RAICES focuses its efforts on refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. The most vulnerable refugees include, among others, women at risk, survivors of torture, and unaccompanied minors. Without long-term solutions, these at-risk populations will remain in tenuous situations, often resulting in more harm.
The children we serve at Lackland are fleeing unspeakable violence. The vast majority are from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Our interviews confirm that many of these children are victims of sexual assault, trafficking, domestic abuse, gang intimidation, persecution, and torture. RAICES’ staff and volunteers have met with girls as young as 12 years old who fled criminal gangs attempting to force them into sexual exploitation. The phenomenon occurring in these countries can be described as a “war on children,” where local gangs target boys and girls as young as 8 or 9 to transport drugs, coerce them to join through death threats, and intimidate them into participating in the new normalized criminal activity that is rampant and wide-spread. The children and their families who have faced such violence and difficult conditions have made a conscious decision to seek refuge in the United States because they fear their very lives are at stake.