Originally published by Politico
The State Department said children held in government facilities are at higher risk of psychological damage and should be separated from their families only as a “last resort.”
The finding, part of the agency’s Trafficking in Persons Report released Thursday, came as President Donald Trump seeks to quiet public furor over a border policy that has led to more than 2,000 migrant children being separated from their families and held in shelters across the country.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ivanka Trump, who has made the fight against human trafficking a White House priority, are scheduled to present the report Thursday afternoon.
The State Department’s trafficking report included a two-page section on child institutionalization that laid out international best practices for child welfare. The document, released annually since 2001, ranks countries on their anti-trafficking efforts and results, calling out offenders for bad practices and lack of enforcement.
“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report found. “Even at their best, residential institutions are unable to meet a child’s need for emotional support that is typically received from family members or consistent caretakers with whom the child can develop an attachment.”
Governments can protect children by encouraging “family-based care options over institutional care whenever appropriate,” the report found. “Oversight bodies should demand stricter monitoring of children’s homes, ensuring they meet international guidelines and pursue criminal accountability for those who facilitate or organize trafficking in or near government facilities.”
A senior State Department official referred detailed questions to the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
“There are vulnerabilities in the U.S. as elsewhere when there are children either crossing borders alone or in government care,” the official told reporters. “We work with our colleagues and they have systems in place to search for trafficking indicators.”
The section on child institutionalization was a new addition to the annual study, which covers the 12 months from April 1, 2017, to the end of March 2018, a period before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to adopt a zero tolerance policy for illegal border crossings. Thousands of adults were subsequently detained along the U.S.-Mexico border and their children sent to holding facilities, causing a national outcry.
“It is an indictment of the Trump administration's own policies with respect to asylum-seekers and others seeking entry into the United States,” said John Sifton, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said of the report. “We hope Ms. Trump and Secretary Pompeo can share it with other federal agencies and brief them about it in more detail."
On June 20, Trump signed an executive order putting an end to family separations, directing that migrant families be held together as a unit. That order itself could face legal challenges because of a 1997 federal court order that limits the amount of time children can be held in immigrant detention.
GOP leaders in Congress attempted a legislative fix to the problem on Wednesday, an effort that failed on a 121-301 vote after weeks of negotiation.
The HHS inspector general’s office said Wednesday it would launch an investigation into the shelters being used to house migrant children, giving special attention to safety and health-related concerns.
Thursday’s report named China as a human trafficking offender for a second year, placing it with Myanmar, Russia, and 19 other nations on a U.S. blacklist.
South Africa was among a dozen countries added to a watch list of nations that deserve special scrutiny. Several other countries also lost ground, including Ireland and Armenia, which fell out of compliance with minimum anti-trafficking standards.
The report faulted Ireland for a lack of “serious and sustained” efforts and noted it has not had a trafficking conviction since 2013.