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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.

 

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May_Day_Immigration_March_LA37There’s plenty to read about the heartbreaking crisis at the border and what should be done about it. Here’s a few of today’s highlights.

Money talks:  Three billionaires who don’t often find themselves on the same side of issues – Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson and Warren Buffett — take on the do-nothing Congress in this must-read New York Times editorial, opening with this:

American citizens are paying 535 people to take care of the legislative needs of the country. We are getting shortchanged.

***

The three of us vary in our politics and would differ also in our preferences about the details of an immigration reform bill. But we could without doubt come together to draft a bill acceptable to each of us. We hope that fact holds a lesson: You don’t have to agree on everything in order to cooperate on matters about which you are reasonably close to agreement. It’s time that this brand of thinking finds its way to Washington.

Growing backlogs in immigration courts:  According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, the number of pending immigration cases reached an all time high of 375,503 at the end of June — an increase of more than 50,000 since the start of FY 2013.

California has the largest backlog (77,400 cases), followed by Texas (62,143) and then New York (55,010).

Wait times are also longer: the average time a pending case has been waiting in immigration court is now 587 days.

And the number of cases involving juveniles has climbed to 41,640. Those coming from Guatemala make up the largest group, with 12,841 cases, followed by Honduras (12,696) and El Salvador (12,162).

The immigration court in Charlotte, which handles cases for those in North and South Carolina, has a much lower backlog, with 3,386  cases and an average pending time of 258 days. Most of those involve immigrants from Honduras (1100 cases), followed by Mexico (997), Guatemala (480) and El Salvador (406).

Defending immigrant children:  Many of those immigrant children who’ve traveled alone to get here find themselves alone again in a courtroom, facing deportation without any assistance of counsel. Rebecca Leber reports in the New Republic on a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU to remedy that situation.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, and other immigration advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuitagainst the Attorney General’s office, arguing that this setup is unconstitutional. The court system works differently for immigrants than it does for citizens. Undocumented children are treated as “adults in miniature.” And unlike citizens who have a right to a public defender if they cannot afford a lawyer, undocumented adults have no such right. The lawsuit argues undocumented children deserve to be represented by a lawyer in a legal system that “rivals the Internal Revenue Code in its complexity.”

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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.

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image4Yesterday in Raleigh, El Pueblo, Inc. joined forces with several volunteers to hold a vigil for the approximately 60,000 children currently attempting to escape the poverty, violence, and fear of their hometowns in Central America to find relief, security, and freedom in the U.S. As Mike Figueras of El Pueblo informed me, for each child’s body found in the desert, there are about 10 more still lost. (A new report from the Immigration Policy Center shines more light on the dire situation).

Several people spoke at the vigil including staff members of El Pueblo, volunteers, and people representing We Are Raleigh. As Mike explained to me, they hope to do much more than the vigil. He stated that they don’t want this issue pushed to the wayside as these children’s lives are precious and in danger. El Pueblo will also be making efforts to inform and persuade those who are eligible for registration so they can vote. This effort needs all the help it can get.

One purpose of the vigil was prayer, practiced silently as everyone gathered in a circle for a “moment of silence.” One female speaker stated that faith in God and prayer are important to them as they no longer feel that can trust or rely on the government. It is a sad day when the leaders of the “free world” struggle to do the morally right thing by providing relief and help to thousands of poor and suffering children.

Another speaker made a great point when he informed the group that the Statue of Liberty itself has a plaque with the following words engraved: Read More

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May_Day_Immigration_March_LA37As more and more “illegal” children are held in detention at the border, mistreated, mocked, and abused, our President continues to “solve” the crisis by deporting them.

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.