In a bizarre, all-male panel on Tuesday, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Scott Lloyd made a brief appearance, hinting at an upcoming policy shift within his agency.
Held at the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD), the panel purported to address the “effect of urbanization and migration on the family.” Members of the panel, including representatives of Southern Poverty Law Center-identified hate groups, used thinly veiled “men’s rights” and “family values” language, which have the effect of demonizing parents of undocumented and unaccompanied immigrant children. The panelists discussed immigration extensively through Biblical and historical lenses. Topics left unaddressed included the Trump administration’s recent plans to separate families at the U.S.-Mexico border, end family reunification, and detain pregnant people at great risk to their health and well-being, according to advocates. During the discussion, family separation was largely framed as an issue affecting migrants because of their “decision” to leave their family in their country of origin to migrate to the United States.
Lloyd implied that ORR will shift gears and develop stricter standards for which young people get accepted into ORR custody. All unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America are transferred to ORR custody once detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“What we are now trying to do as an administration is improve the legal framework whereby this program can be more focused on those who have legitimate claims for asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Those who embark on this journey for economic reasons are encouraged to find lawful means to do so,” Lloyd said. In other words, they can “get in line” to legally migrate to the United States and eventually obtain citizenship, but as Rewire.News previously explained, no such line exists for the bulk of migrants.
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Lloyd said ORR began as a “well-intentioned program for a small number of minors who needed reunification,” but has turned into a “profitable source for smugglers” and an option for children simply “experiencing difficulty” in their homes.
Lloyd said he has asked young people in ORR custody why they “chose to make such a dangerous journey,” and, according to Lloyd, the young people said “in their mind, they thought the risk was worth the benefits.”
This is a common narrative lobbed by government officials at unaccompanied immigrant children who are not officially recognized as asylum seekers or refugees, or whose status as economic migrants is dismissed. It’s an effective way to “other” them and convince U.S. citizens that the United States must crack down on immigration because migrants “use too many resources and public benefits.” But migrants are often fleeing for their lives. After facing starvation and violence in their countries of origin, they arrive in the United States and cannot access public benefits yet contribute billions in taxes each year.
Lloyd said that when young people who do not have a valid asylum claim or SIJS are released to a sponsor, they “disappear into a legal black hole” and it’s an “end situation” where “human flourishing cannot occur.” Lloyd said this is why his agency is working to create a “better legal framework,” in part to “recognize the dignity of the American taxpayer” who is “providing these services to unaccompanied children.”
Lloyd on Tuesday outlined how Flores v. Reno, the Homeland Security Act, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act currently provide the legal framework for what happens when a child migrates alone to the United States and ends up in ORR custody. Lloyd characterized the shelter system these unaccompanied immigrant minors are placed into as “group shelters for youth” that are not like detention centers. However, by definition, children are detained in these facilities and unable to leave until officials approve their sponsor—an increasingly difficult task with Lloyd at the helm of ORR. Lloyd held one teen girl, known as Jane Doe, “hostage” in a Texas shelter because she requested access to abortion care. He denied two of Jane Doe’s potential sponsors, prolonging her detention and further postponing her abortion.
Lloyd told the panel that unaccompanied immigrant minors in ORR care receive food, education, clothing, and “basic health care and medical care.” Complaints suggest there seems to be a disparity between the care minors in ORR custody receive and the care they need. In June 2016, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the federal government for funding organizations that provide care, including access to medical care, to unaccompanied immigrant minors because the government allows these organizations “to refuse on religious grounds to follow the law that requires them to provide these young people with access to contraception and abortion, even if the minor has been raped,” the ACLU reported.
As director of ORR, Lloyd has weaponized his religious beliefs to usher a new era of “anti-choice fanaticism” into the U.S. immigration system, doing everything in his power to block unaccompanied immigrant minors in ORR custody from accessing abortion. The ongoing legal battle related to Lloyd’s agency was not mentioned by the former attorney for the Catholic charity Knights of Columbus and board member of the Front Royal Pregnancy Center during Tuesday’s panel.
However, Lloyd reported that ORR has 10,000 shelter beds available for unaccompanied immigrant minors and is detaining around 8,500 young people. He detailed the violence these young people are attempting to escape in their countries of origin, and the violence they encounter en route to the United States, where he said many are sexually assaulted along the way. An estimated 80 percent of women and girls crossing into the United States by way of Mexico are raped during their journey. These are the young women Lloyd has denied access to abortion because, as he said in his most recent deposition, he believes abortion is a “sin” and he would potentially be complicit in said sin if he ever approved an abortion request.
Tuesday’s panel had a series of troubling sponsors, including C-FAM, a SPLC-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group that in March wrote a fundraising email saying, “comprehensive sexuality education is a blue-print for kids to lose their lives and their souls.” Human Life International, another sponsor with ties to Lloyd, “garnered a reputation for its extremist rhetoric (like approving of sniper attacks on doctors who perform abortions) and actions, and for linking the abortion industry to Jews,” according to SPLC. HLI also funds one of the main organizations behind the total abortion ban in El Salvador that imprisons women who have had abortions or even miscarried. An additional sponsor was the Family Research Council, another anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ SPLC-designated hate group that supported the so-called “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.
“You can tell a lot by the company one keeps—and Scott Lloyd’s company is terrifying. Scott Lloyd is representing the department of Health and Human Services by sitting on a panel with hate groups—a group that has called for legislation in Uganda that would inflict the death penalty on someone who is gay, and another group that says you should jail a woman for accessing an abortion,” Chloe Cooney, director of Global Advocacy at Planned Parenthood Global, said in a statement. “These groups are extreme, and will push their fringe ideology no matter how many women it hurts—and the Trump-Pence administration is trying to normalize them. This is not who our country is nor what our country should stand for.”