Amnesty says that border authorities are “misusing” a provision in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that applies only to Mexican and Canadian children and prohibits the U.S. from sending them to dangerous conditions. The anti-trafficking legislation requires that CBP officials screen children to confirm they are not afraid to return to Mexico and do not require protection, that they are not victims of human trafficking, and that they are returning voluntarily. However, a 2020 study in the Journal on Migration and Human Security found that CBP officials failed to screen approximately half of the unaccompanied Mexican children whom they encountered and that a majority of the children interviewed for the study “had no idea they were signing forms consenting to their returns to Mexico.”

“CBP is … perverting a protection system in order to unlawfully turn away almost 100 percent of Mexican children.”

A Tijuana-based social worker, speaking to Amnesty in April and May of this year, said unaccompanied children returned to the border city “were almost never informed of their rights or asked if they feared return, prior to their being repatriated.” Once in Tijuana, the Amnesty report added, unaccompanied children often face “abuses by municipal police, who discriminated against and targeted the children due to their vulnerability, subjecting them to arbitrary arrests, robbery, and excessive use of force.”

The TVPRA also requires U.S. border agents to adhere to binational repatriation agreements that stipulate when and where people can be returned to Mexico. Here, too, Amnesty found unaccompanied Mexican children exposed to danger, with U.S. officials returning children at locations and times not included in agreed upon repatriation accords. As The Intercept reported in March, CBP has expanded the ports through which it returns people to Mexico since Title 42 went into effect to include locations controlled by organized crime where migrant resources are largely nonexistent.

Griffey, the Amnesty researcher, said that “CBP is the clear villain of this abusive behavior because they’re perverting a protection system in order to unlawfully turn away almost 100 percent of Mexican children.” Remarking on Harris’s statements in Guatemala and Mexico earlier this week, he added, “But to hear Biden administration officials defend and implicitly authorize that abuse is equally alarming and damning.”

It is true that there are people who would seek asylum but do not qualify, Griffey said, “but to suggest that the thousands who do qualify for asylum protection should nonetheless stay in deadly situations at home, or be unlawfully sent back to that harm by the U.S. if they do run for their lives is, in my view, an abrogation of U.S. legal commitments and just basic humanity in the treatment of people in need — and that especially applies for the situation of children who are at risk every step along the migrant trail.”