As we reported last week, many of the children crossing the border into the United States wind up in court defending themselves — a situation that presumably does not end well for them.
The American Civil Liberties Union describes the plight of such children in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking an order requiring that counsel be appointed for children in immigration court:
Plaintiffs are eight immigrant children, ranging in age from ten to seventeen. The Government has begun proceedings to deport each of them; they will soon be called to appear before an Immigration Judge. In court, the Department of Homeland Security will be represented by a trained lawyer who will argue for the child’s deportation. But no lawyer will stand with the child. Each will be required to respond to the charges against him or her, and, in theory, will be afforded an opportunity to make legal arguments and present evidence on his or her own behalf. But in reality those rights will be meaningless because children are not competent to exercise them. Each child has attempted to find representation through pro bono legal service providers, but none of them have found anyone with the resources to take on their cases. Absent this Court’s intervention, these children will be forced to defend themselves pro se under the immigration laws – a legal regime that, as the courts have recognized, rivals the Internal Revenue Code in its complexity.
Numbers released yesterday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show as expected that represented children fare much better.
Among the conclusions in that report:
Children were not represented about half of the time (48%) they appeared in Immigration Court, although there is wide variation by state and hearing location.
Outcome if attorney present. In almost half (47%) of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. The child was ordered removed in slightly more than one in four (28%) of these cases. And in the remaining quarter (26%) the judge entered a “voluntary departure” (VD) order. (While with a VD order the child is required to leave the country, the child avoids many of the more severe legal consequences of a removal order.)
Outcome if no attorney. Where the child appeared alone without representation, nine out of ten children were ordered deported — 77 percent through the entry of a removal order, and 13 percent with a VD order. One in ten (10%) were allowed to remain in the country.
The Greenville Daily Reflector reprinted an editorial this morning that first ran in a town with a lot of up-close-and-personal experience in the nation’s ongoing immigration crisis on the southern border. According to the editors of the Corpus Christi Times:
To hear Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi tell it, Congress is willing help solve the immigration crisis if only President Barack Obama would “get off the belief that we have to do comprehensive immigration reform.”
This resistance to comprehensive reform, rampant throughout Congress, puzzles us because all the signs point to comprehensive reform as being urgent.
Consider that 52,000 undocumented immigrant children are known to have crossed the southern border unaccompanied so far this year as of mid-June, fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands. The trend is expected to continue.
There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, 1.7 million of whom are what’s known as DREAMers — young people brought here as children, who would be eligible to stay under legislation known as the DREAM Act if only it were to pass. The DREAM Act would be one humanitarian step in the direction of comprehensive immigration reform. It offers legal residency to people who can’t be blamed for having come here illegally, in exchange for attaining higher education or serving in the military.
These children end up in detention for various reasons. Sometimes, as they are attempting with their families to cross over, they lose them in the desert and end up on their own. Sometimes they are offered opportunities for sneaking in by drug-smugglers. Sometimes, after waiting for many years to immigrate with their parents, they are prevented from entering on the basis that they are no longer considered children.
It is a great injustice that citizens of the US, who consider themselves to be “civilized,” would engage in demoralizing and devaluing the lives of socioeconomically disadvantaged children. Apart from the deportations, which are unjust enough, those who guard our borders have also dehumanized these children through racist mockery, general mistreatment with bad living conditions and inadequate healthcare, and physical and sexual abuse . These innocent children are merely seeking better lives beyond the violence and poverty they have experienced elsewhere when they are not pursuing reunification with their families.
To make matters worse, Border Patrol agents in Texas were warned by an assistant patrol agent not to speak with journalists who are seeking to obtain more information on the crisis. As in the case with Guantanamo Bay, some government officials have a record for lacking transparency in areas where humanitarian crimes are being committed.
Critics of this humanitarian injustice directed at immigrant victims are encouraging the Obama administration to implement a program of affirmative relief that will dramatically decrease the number of deportations taking place each day. Let’s hope these efforts bear fruit in the very near future as the current situation is clearly intolerable.
House Speaker John Boehner’s most recent delay tactic in preventing passage of an immigration reform bill has been to state that Republicans have “widespread doubt about whether [the Obama] administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.” As anyone paying attention to the immigration debate is aware, this is a ridiculous statement—the Obama administration has steadily increased the number of deportations conducted compared to previous administrations. The most recent statistics show that almost 420,000 immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2012, more immigrants deported in a single year by any president.
A recent essay in the D.C. news website The Hill by a retired immigration judge makes a powerful argument against that ridiculous claim. Retired Judge John Gossart, Jr. remarks:
“In my thirty-one years as a United States immigration judge, I have never had as many people come through my courtroom as I have over the last six years. During this time, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of non-citizens that the United States detains and deports, and the detained number of individuals appearing in immigration courts today is unprecedented. Read More