(October 9, 2014, Los Angeles) – A statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups today launched caravans that converged in front of the Bakersfield offices of Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to demand that he defend the law protecting unaccompanied children from Central America.
“We want to remind Congressman McCarthy that the law that protects unaccompanied migrant children fleeing from violence in Central America has been on the books for at least seven years,” said Martha Arévalo, Executive Director of CARECEN, one of the Los Angeles organizations that form part of the coalition. “These children, like any other children or anyone else in this country, are entitled to their due process rights under the Constitution.”
The coalition, which includes organizations from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Bakersfield, gathered in front of McCarthy’s office for a rally and evening candlelight vigil. Earlier, they presented a letter endorsed by more than 25 organizations to McCarthy’s staff, urging that he ensure enforcement of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, a law that guarantees hearings before an immigration judge, and a chance to consult with an attorney, for children who arrive unaccompanied from countries not contiguous to the United States.
More than 60,000 children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, most of them unaccompanied, have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border since October 2013. Many have already been returned to their home countries without the required hearings. McCarthy voted in August for a bill that, among other things, stripped those protections from the law, thus speeding their deportations.
“We know the Republican Party claims to stand for family values,” said Mirna Medina, a member of Red Nacional Salvadoreña en el Exterior (RENASE) in San Francisco. “Why, then, does Congressman McCarthy vote to separate families and put children in harm's way? We call on him to step up and protect the due process rights of those who are, after all, children, and in need of defense. It is the fair thing to do, and it is the law.”
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 passed with bipartisan support and was one of the last bills signed into law by President George W. Bush. In an environment in which real immigration reform remains an elusive goal, the coalition expressed fears that the Central American children would lose the few protections that up to now have been the law.
“The whole world is watching, and will pass judgment on the strength of our moral commitment to, and our consistency in, upholding the human rights of refugees, on how well we are dealing with this surge of unaccompanied children arriving at our borders from three violence-torn countries in Central America,” said Gonzalo Santos, CFA Representative to the Kern Coalition for Citizenship, another participant in the action. “We cannot both be a leader in the world, asking others to take in and extend protections and support for much larger refugee flows from various violent regions, and treat this comparatively smaller flow of unaccompanied refugee children with callous disregard for their well-being and their cry for help. We are a better country than that.”
Participating members of the coalition are: Red Nacional Salvadoreña en el Exterior (RENASE), CARECEN LA, CARECEN SF, Homies Unidos, Clínica Romero, Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), Red Mexicana de Líderes y Organizaciones Migrantes, Salvadoran American Leadership & Educational Fund (SALEF), Kern County Coalition for Citizenship, Confederación Centroamericana (COFECA), Hondureños Unidos de Los Ángeles, Movimiento por la Reunificación Familiar SF, and Movimiento Primero de Abril.