Bishop Backs Legislation to Protect Unaccompanied Migrant Children

WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 22, 2003 ( The United States needs a policy to protect the best interests of immigrant and refugee children who arrive here without a parent or guardian, says a bishop.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, urged support Thursday for the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act being introduced in the Senate.

“Because of their special vulnerabilities and circumstances, unaccompanied children are unable to navigate the complexities of our immigration law without the benefit of an adult to help guide them through the process,” he wrote in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who introduced the bill. Other lead sponsors of the bill include Republicans Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Each year, close to 5,000 minors with no legal status and without a parent or guardian enter the United States and are detained.

In his letter, Bishop Wenski stated that the new legislation, if enacted, would “help provide access to counsel and guardians ad litem for children; establish minimum standards for the detention and care of children; provide appropriate alternatives to detention for children; and streamline the process for obtaining legal protection for unaccompanied alien minors. These reforms are necessary to ensure that the best interest of all children, whatever their country of origin, are served.”