Appleseed and Appleseed México, in collaboration with Mayer Brown and three other law firms, released a groundbreaking report that identifies substantial noncompliance with US federal law regarding the treatment of Mexican children who are detained after crossing the US-México border when unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. 

The report, “Children at the Border: The Screening, Protection and Repatriation of Unaccompanied Mexican Minors,” was the culmination of a two-year investigation that involved site visits in 14 different locations in the United States and México, interviews with more than 130 detained unaccompanied children, and interviews with US and Mexican officials, in order to determine whether the United States is complying with the requirements of US federal law, and whether the welfare and rights of the unaccompanied Mexican children are being respected in the repatriation process in México.
Each year, more than 15,000 unaccompanied Mexican children cross the US border.  Many are in search of economic opportunities or are trying to reunite with family members; some are seeking to escape violence, abuse, or neglect; other are being trafficked for sex or forced labor.  Some are at high risk of becoming trafficking victims upon being returned to México.

In December 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 (the TVPRA), to protect unaccompanied minors against human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse, and to help put an end to the “revolving door” that has existed at the border for years.  Through this “revolving door,” Mexican children are routinely, immediately sent back without any meaningful scrutiny of their individual circumstances or a determination as to whether they can be safely repatriated.

Despite the passage of the TVPRA and policy reforms in both the United States and México, the investigation revealed that the “revolving door” policy has not ended, and that Mexican minors are just as vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation after the passage of the TVPRA as they were before.

Under the TVPRA, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must screen each minor who crosses the border without parents or legal guardians to ensure that these children are not at risk of being trafficked, have no possible claims to asylum, and that they have made an independent and voluntary decision to return to México.  Appleseed’s investigation revealed that the required TVPRA screenings are not being conducted in a manner, or in environments, that would help discern whether the minor is a potential victim of trafficking, persecution, or abuse.  The investigation further revealed that unaccompanied minors are routinely not informed, or are misinformed, about their rights under US law, rendering it impossible for them to make an independent and voluntary decision about whether to return to México.  In addition, the investigation showed that DHS has not provided the Customs and Border Protection officers charged with screening unaccompanied Mexican children with the specialized training to work with and interview children that is explicitly required under the TVPRA.  

With respect to México, Appleseed’s investigation found that, while the Mexican government has made significant strides in the care and protection of repatriated children, there is no clear legal framework or national standards to govern their care.  Appleseed also found that the overriding emphasis on swift family reunification fails adequately to consider the best interests of the child and whether family reunification is appropriate.

In its report, Appleseed has identified seven findings and recommendations in the United States and three findings and recommendations in México that, if implemented, would significantly reduce the risks these children face.  The 132-page report is available at

The Mayer Brown team that worked on this project includes partners Rob Jenkins and Adrian Steel, associates Alicia Kinsey, Stephanie Roark, Gaby Sakamoto, former associate Susan Baur, and Assistant Director of Pro Bono Activities Marcia Tavares Maack.