Women in Congress have rallied around many gender-specific issues over time and some are doing the same on the arrivals of children and women to the U.S. border.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who leads the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration, said she feels “we are losing the focus of the catastrophe and the humanitarian crisis of the children and these women” who have arriving mostly at the Texas-Mexico border in the hundreds daily from Central America and Mexico.
Roybal-Allard said in a statement that 40 percent of the more than 52,000 children apprehended at the border since Oct. 1 are girls. The administration also has said more girls and younger children are coming. The Congressional Research Service said in a recent report it could not get data to illustrate the increase in girls and young children so it was unclear whether the additional girls and young children is a result of the larger number of children arriving or if the girls and children are a greater proportion of the unaccompanied children.
The Congressional Women's Working Group is mostly Democrats, but Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, is a member. Roybal-Allard said she hopes to capture the attention of female and male colleagues on the issue, but pointed out that the girls are particularly vulnerable.
“What is happening to them is real. We are getting story aftger story of children being murdered, young girls being raped and drug cartels threatening young boys,” Roybal-Allard said. “I think we are losing site of the humanitarian side and the reasons why they are coming.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, was tapped the leader of a task force on the issue by House Speaker John Boehner. Although she has a different view than Roybal-Allard on what should be done with the children, she agrees it’s not an immigration issue but a crisis.
Women in Washington have come together on other international issues regarding women and girls. A good example is the effort by former first lady Laura Bush and her push for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas joined that cause.
In a Wednesday conference call sponsored by Human Rights First, Leslie Vélez with the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees told of a young girl who told of watching her classmate be sexually violated, killed and dismembered and her body parts spread on the route to school.
Vélez said the spreading of the girls’ body parts was “a sign to the young girls that the gangs are not making empty threats when they are trying to make them their girlfriends."
Cory Smith of The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking told the story of a young girl he called Sara, which is not her real name, who recently crossed the border into the U.S. and is originally from El Salvador.
The girl was living with a group of women after her mom went to the U.S., she was 15. She was kidnapped by a group of men, sexually abused and forced to have sex with other men and later sold into sex slavery. After two years she escaped and made it to the U.S. She was able to speak to a social worker two months after her arrival who identified her as a trafficking victim, Smith said.
Vélez said the usual pattern for refugee flows_ a term the Obama administration has not used to refer to the children and families _ is for children and children to arrive first. As violence escalates, the flow escalates. She said that is the pattern coming out of Syria.
“The numbers have been slowly doubling in the United States every year since 2008. Now, we’re at that point where the arc has increased,” she said.