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Durbin Questions Witnesses During Judiciary Committee Hearing on Ensuring the Safety and Well-Being of Unaccompanied Children

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Ensuring the Safety and Well-Being of Unaccompanied Children.”  Today’s hearing examined the exploitation of unaccompanied non-citizen children in the United States, existing protections under the law, and the need to ensure that the United States protects these vulnerable children.  Durbin first questioned Venus Bradley, a foster parent, who has fostered three unaccompanied children.

“Ms. Bradley, thank you [to] you and your family for reaching out and helping others.  The two daughters that you’ve adopted—can both of them now legally work in the United States?” Durbin asked.

Bradley responded that both can now legally work in the United States.

“As you mentioned, they do not qualify for many government programs that other children may be eligible for… What is their immigration status at this moment?” Durbin asked. 

Bradley responded that they are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status.  They applied for their green cards in December 2021, however, they are still waiting to get approved.

Durbin then quested Lorie Davidson, Vice President for Children and Family Services, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), about attorneys representing unaccompanied children.  Durbin asked if these children have any legal counsel or any representation at all.

Davidson responded that “sadly most children do not and it’s so important [for children to have legal counsel] because it helps them comply with their immigration case and it also gives them that trusted adult relationship to make sure they have someone they can talk to if they’re concerned about their rights.”

“What about the phenomena that I’ve heard described where it’s difficult to have a sponsor or even a member of the family to step forward because they’re worried [about] their own immigration status… Have you run into that situation?” Durbin asked.

Davidson responded that they have run into that situation. She followed up by saying, “especially under the last Administration when it was made clear that sponsor information would be used against them in immigration enforcement.  It is really difficult for sponsors to come forward.”

Durbin then asked Anne Basham, Founder and Chair of the Interparliamentary Taskforce on Human Trafficking; and Founder and CEO of Ascend Consulting, about sex trafficking and sex abuse toward migrants.

“As I mentioned earlier, I met with some of the migrants that were sent to Chicago from Texas… And I sat down with them for several hours to talk about their experiences… I do recall a young woman who was about 30 years old, a college graduate, who made that trip to the U.S.-Mexico border and she was raped in the process… I couldn’t agree with you more that we have to find a way to educate… families in these other countries about the dangers [they face] trying to make this journey.  What more do you think we could do at this point?” Durbin asked.

Basham responded that “when it comes to human trafficking, the biggest gap is in victim identification.” 

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Following a bombshell New York Times report in February, Chair Durbin took to the Senate floor to call on Congress to protect children from exploitation and fix our broken immigration system. Durbin and 16 Senate colleagues wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and then-Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to request information on children’s placement with sponsors and investigations into child labor. In May, Durbin announced his intention to hold a committee hearing on the issue, while leading oversight efforts to hold companies accountable for unlawfully employing migrant children.