On October 11, the Senate approved, by unanimous consent, a substitute amendment to a bill (S. 1129) that would set standards for the treatment of unaccompanied alien children. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure on June 3 (see The Source, 6/4/04).
Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act would require immigration authorities to transfer the custody of unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. The measure would authorize such sums as necessary for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services to comply with the bill.
S. 1129 would require that every unaccompanied alien minor be given access to legal counsel, but would specify that the federal government would not pay for the child's attorney representation. The bill also would require that states be reimbursed for the expenses they incurred while providing assistance to unaccompanied children. The measure would require the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to develop a witness protection program for children who are victims of trafficking or alien smuggling. Finally, the bill would require the State Department to include an assessment of foreign countries' efforts to protect children from traffickers and smugglers in its annual report on human rights.
The substitute amendment would lower from 21 to 18 the age at which immigrant children who have become wards of the state could apply for special immigrant visas.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has introduced a comparable bill (H.R. 2261) in the House.
1 The Source on Women's Issues in Congress. Women's Policy, Inc. Volume 10, No. 31. 2004.
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