As the Trump administration deals with a dramatic increase in the number of child immigration cases, most of which are in a backlog of 8,378 pending cases spanning more than three years, a new zero-tolerance immigration policy imposed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions could cause this backlog to grow even more.
Sessions announced the policy shift in May, which would require Border Patrol agents to hand over all undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border to the Department of Justice for prosecution. This new policy also means that thousands of unaccompanied child aliens (UACs) will have to be separated from their parents as the latter go through the criminal justice system.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” Sessions said at a conference last month.
The backlog, however, has existed long before the new policy was introduced.
Observers point out that while the Trump administration clearly wants to detain as many immigrants as possible, the new policy allows for the faster deportation of unlawful migrants at the cost of their children being caught up in the separate removal system for minors, adding to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ burgeoning backlog.
The government, however, promised that these children and their parents will eventually be reunited, preventing the further increase children immigration cases in the system. The Justice Department added that civil immigration proceedings of families will continue when they are reunited.
But reuniting families is easier said than done. Because adults are processed under a different system separated from their children, matching up families can be very difficult to do. True enough, close to 1,500 UACs have been reported missing since the start of the “100% prosecution” policy.
Most of these children can be granted a special immigration juvenile visa (SIJ) or even asylum. But while a judge may grant a child relief from deportation, USCIS retains the sole authority to grant visas, resulting in a substantial difference between the number of visas granted and the number of children awarded relief by a judge.
Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at NYU Law, claims that many of the children only cross the border to reunite with their families already in the United States. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, they would have been classified as UACs. But the Trump administration is seeking to change the definition of “unaccompanied” to exclude children with guardians present in the country, denying them the special protection that comes with UAC status.
Immigration rights advocates believe this policy is an attempt to scare families looking to cross the border by threatening to separate them from one another.
If you, or a loved one, are dealing with this issue or some other immigration-related problem, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.