Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar says he is planning to introduce bipartisan legislation to tweak a 2008 trafficking law that placed added protections on unaccompanied children from noncontiguous countries.
“It’s a very simple piece of legislation that amends the 2008 human trafficking act,” he told reporters Wednesday evening, explaining it would treat all unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors the same.
“Nobody has told me why we treat contiguous countries and non-contiguous countries differently,” he said.
Cuellar acknowledged that the 2008 law was intended to protect trafficking victims and said that he intends to have protections in his bill to continue to provide options for asylum and other protections for potential victims – but with expedited timeframes for immigration hearings.
The Texas Congressman – who recently received a visit from an administration official after being critical of the White House’s response to the border crisis – recounted that border officials have told him the average wait time for an immigration hearing is about two years, and even if there is an order for removal, if the child is not a criminal he or she will be at the bottom of the government’s priorities for removal.
The 2008 law Cuellar hopes to amend – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 – requires unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous counties to appear before an immigration court, be turned over to Health and Human Services, and then “the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
The law has made dealing with the more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors, largely from Central America, who have illegally entered the country illegally since October difficult.
Cuellar noted that he has been working on the legislation with an experienced senator from Texas who does not have a “z” in his name. While he declined to name the senator, Republican Sen. John Cornyn is the only senator who fit the description he provided.
The Texan said he hopes to introduce the legislation Thursday.
Another Texan – Republican Rep. Kay Granger, who is heading a congressional working group on the issue, also told reporters Wednesday that the 2008 trafficking law is an issue her group is considering.
“The working group is saying we’re going to have to look at that, at that law, and so that will be part of our report,” she told reporters, noting the group is meeting almost every day.
The working group is planning to update the GOP conference on July 15 about the border crisis.