Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What Happens to the Unaccompanied Children Who Cross into the United States?

2014 brought about an unprecedented humanitarian crisis at the border between the United States and Mexico.  Over 60,000 children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed the border into the United States without their parentsMany were escaping violence and abuse in their home countries, especially violence from the illegal drug trade and the street gangs.  In legal terms, they are called "unaccompanied alien children."

The responsibility for caring for unaccompanied minor children falls on the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The goal is to find a sponsor in the United States to care for each child while that child awaits a hearing before an Immigration Judge.  Most of the time, that sponsor is a parent, relative or family friend already in the United States.

However, with the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border remaining at shockingly high levels, it often takes time for ORR to find a suitable sponsor.  The average wait is about thirty-two (32) days.  While ORR is looking for a sponsor, children are housed in detention facilities, separate from adult detainees.

Even after ORR finds a sponsor, many of the children remain subject to abuse.  Critics argue that the U.S. Government has created a "pseudo-foster-care system" with no oversight or government follow-up.  Once a sponsor is found, the Government takes it on the honor system that the sponsor will act in the child's best interests.  In reality, some children have been subject to emotional, physical and sexual abuse from their sponsors.

Meanwhile, the children continue to face removal proceedings in Immigration Court.  Because immigration proceedings are civil law proceedings, and not criminal proceedings, the U.S. Government takes the position that it is not required by the Constitution to provide legal counsel, as it would be in criminal court.  One Immigration Judge shocked many by asserting that three and four year old children could learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in Immigration Court.  Some organizations, like the ACLU, have pressed the Government to accept responsibility for providing attorneys to represent unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings.

What is clear is that the unaccompanied children represent the most vulnerable of those making the dangerous trek to the United States.  Once in the United States, they may qualify for such programs as asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  The U.S. Constitution requires that the children be provided with due process of law before being shipped back to their home countries.

Here at William J. Kovatch, Jr., Attorney at Law, PLLC, we provide quality legal representation to children who have come into the country without their parents.  While past results cannot be used to guarantee results in future cases, we have obtained asylum for children abused. in their home country, and have successfully petitioned for SIJS for many children.  If you are a sponsor for an unaccompanied child, and looking for legal advice, call us.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832
Se habla espanol: (571) 551-6069.