One of the last bills signed by President George W. Bush, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, is at the root of the potentially calamitous flow of unaccompanied minors to the nation's southern border, reports the New York Times. Pushed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers as well as by evangelical groups to combat sex trafficking, the bill gave substantial new protections to children entering the country alone who were not from Mexico or Canada by prohibiting them from being quickly sent back to their country of origin. It required that they be given an opportunity to appear at an immigration hearing and consult with an advocate, and it recommended that they have access to counsel.
It also required that they be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the agency was directed to place the minor “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and to explore reuniting those children with family members. The Obama administration says the law is partly responsible for tying its hands in dealing with the current influx of children. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who helped write the measure, said the White House does not need new power to act. “That law already provides the administration with flexibility to accelerate the judicial process in times of crisis,” she said. “The administration should use that flexibility to speed up the system while still treating these children humanely, with compassion and respect.”