There is a crisis that is playing out in immigration courts across the country, particularly in large metropolitan areas like New York City where children from Central America who crossed the southern border into the United States without adult accompaniment await their respective hearings. More than 66,000 Central American youths have crossed the US-Mexico illegally border over the last 12 months, many of them in an effort to get away from what they describe as rampant gang violence in countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua. It is estimated that in New York City alone there are upwards of 6,000 illegal immigrant children with the majority of them staying with relatives while they await their court hearings.
A Desperate Situation
The problem that is rearing its ugly head for these children is that according to the Legal Aid Society, nearly half of them do not have any manner of legal counsel to represent them in their hearings. And without legal representation, the likelihood that they will be sent back to their Central American homeland increases exponentially, a situation which immigration advocates call “desperate”. One attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit stated that she and her colleagues are working 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to try and meet the demand but that it is virtually impossible to do so.
The New York City Immigration Court has been inundated with unaccompanied children from Central America for the last year in general and particularly since the Obama administration started increasing deportation hearings for migrant children this past summer. Since that time, attorney and volunteers from the Legal Aid Society have been utilizing whatever unused rooms the Immigration Court building has available on a day-to-day basis to connect migrant children – and in many cases their mothers or even entire families – with representatives from several areas of Social Services including homeless shelters and mental health counseling.
The caseloads for attorney, however, have become overwhelming with each counselor taking on as many as 60 cases or more. Joseph Landau, an associate law professor at Fordham University specializing in immigration, said that the crux of the problem for these children is that under current United States law they have no right to government appointed legal counsel. He added that deportation is often times a worse fate for foreign nationals than going to jail. The President’s administration has estimated that it costs taxpayers more than $2 billion to either care for the children in these situations or to reunite them with their relatives already living in the United States.
According to the children who are in these situations as well as their mothers – the ones who crossed over with parental accompaniment – going back to their Central American homeland is the equivalent of a “death sentence” and immigration advocates say that many of those who come into the US from the region show signs of severe physical and emotional trauma. They are often victims of gang violence or rampant sexual assault and while those advocated admit that the children are in fact refugees in the country illegally, they are still children and “they cannot represent themselves”.
If you or someone you know is in need of legal counsel regarding an immigration issue, please contact the immigration attorney at the Lyttle Law Firm in Austin, Texas or call their offices at 512-215-5225.