(by Kirk Semple, NYTimes) – The Obama administration said on Friday that it was launching a program to help recruit lawyers for children facing deportation as it scrambles to deal with the soaring number of unaccompanied Central American minors illegally crossing the border from Mexico.
Under the plan, the federal government will issue $2 million in grants to enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent children making their way through the immigration court system. [In addition, the Obama administration is asking Congress for $2 billion for the Health and Human Services’ Unaccompanied Alien Children program.]
“We’re taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings – many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse, or trafficking – goes to the core of who we are as a nation.”
Administration officials have been trying to cope with a surge of unaccompanied children, mainly from Central America, that has overwhelmed border officials as well as the nation’s family and immigration court systems.
On Monday, the Obama administration ordered federal emergency authorities to coordinate a multiagency response to the relief effort. Two emergency shelters have been opened on military bases – one at Naval Base Ventura County in Oxnard, Calif., and the other at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio – to house as many as 1,800 [children].
Since October, more than 47,000 children traveling without parents have been caught trying to cross the Southwest border, a 92 percent increase over the same period last year. Most are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, officials said.
Conservative critics say that the administration’s lax enforcement of immigration law has sent encouraging signals to Central Americans suggesting that they may enjoy a de facto amnesty if they get across the Mexico border.
“The broader message is that we don’t take our immigration laws seriously,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tightening immigration laws. “That’s what it is, and people are acting on it.”
The new legal representation program will be a collaboration between the Justice Department and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates the AmeriCorps national service program. The program’s services will be restricted to children under the age of 16 who have already received a notice to appear for deportation proceedings but are not in the custody of the federal government, officials said.
The grants will be issued to nonprofit organizations in 29 cities with large immigrant populations. Those groups would in turn recruit and enroll the attorneys and paralegals for the program, said Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokeswoman for the corporation.
Each legal representative will be asked to commit to about a year of service and in exchange will receive a living allowance, Ms. Warfield said.
In criminal or family courts, defendants who cannot afford a lawyer have the right to obtain one at the government’s expense. Nothing in the law provides such a benefit in immigration court, not even for children, and immigration law in general provides few protections specifically for minors.
Immigrants’ advocates, arguing that children should be provided with special care, have long pressed for a system of universal representation for unaccompanied minors facing deportation. They have redoubled their call amid the recent influx of young people from Central America.
Many advocates applauded the announcement, but at the same time pointed out that the program promised to provide representation for only a fraction of all unaccompanied minors trying to navigate the American legal system.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The New York Times.
NOTE: The Los Angeles Times reported on June 7, “Meanwhile, Border Patrol officials have also been overwhelmed by another unprecedented surge, this one of single parents with children who are crossing illegally into the U.S. The influx was fueled by a rumor running through Central America that parents with children would be allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely. Some [illegal immigrants] have expressed surprise when told they might still be deported.”
NOTE: “Answers” emails have ended for the school year and will resume September 2nd.
Daily posting will end for the summer on June 13th and will resume August 25th.
NOTE TO STUDENTS: The issue of the large number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is a controversial topic and one of children even more so. Remember that most of the people who come here do so to have the opportunity for a better life and for the freedom to make it happen. But this is not an issue of being “unkind,” rather an issue of enforcing the law as well as preventing vulnerable children from putting themselves in harms way. Those who enforce U.S. laws should not be accused of being unkind – they are being responsible. And those who want to create programs to assist the children who get here illegally do so in the name of compassion. People on both sides of this issue feel that they support the policies that are best for our country. Speak courteously to one another on this topic.
1. By what percent has the number of children illegally crossing the border into the U.S. without parents increased over the past year?
2. Compare the number of children who were caught crossing the border illegally per year between 2008 and 2011, with 2012, 2013 and expected for this year. (find the answers in the article and “Background” below)
3. Describe how the Obama administration’s legal representation program for children who came to the U.S. illegally will work. (see para. 9-11)
4. How does the Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration law create a dangerous situation for Central American children attempting to come to the U.S. illegally? What types of dangers does this create for children who leave their homes in Central America?
5. The Obama administration announced Monday that it was designating a third U.S. military base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma as emergency housing for hundreds of children immigrating illegally to the U.S. without parents or relatives. What do you think of this solution?
6. Which of the following solutions to this crisis do you think would be best?
- enforce current immigration laws and publicize the fact in these countries that we are enforcing the laws
- throw out current immigration laws and open the borders to all comers
- Establish a program with the governments of all Central American countries that would fly kids apprehended illegally crossing the border back to their countries and put under the protective custody of their own governments. (Use the money that would be used for lawyers, housing, food, clothing, medical care to instead pay for flights home)
7. Consider the following:
- What message does the government’s current handling of the illegal immigration crisis send to those considering coming here illegally?
- What message does the government’s current handling of the illegal immigration crisis send to those who waited in line and came here legally?
- Who will care for the children who come here illegally and have no family here? (where will they find a home, schooling, medical care?)
- In defending the free attorney program for children who succeed in crossing the border illegally, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, “many of [these young people] are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse, or trafficking.” To be fair, should we invite all children from Syria, Nigeria, Sudan and other countries where they are facing the same and sometimes worse to come here? What about the children fleeing abuse or trafficking in Asian countries or the Middle East?
- What is the purpose of immigration laws?
- What is the best solution for our country (one which also treats the children with compassion)?
from a June 5 Associated Press story “Surge in Kids Crossing Border Alone Strains Patrol”
Border Patrol agents could arrest as many as 90,000 children trying to illegally cross the Mexican border alone this year, more than three times the number of children apprehended in 2013, according to a draft internal Homeland Security memorandum reviewed by The Associated Press.
In the May 30 memo from Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello to the National Security Council’s transborder security directorate, Vitiello said Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics estimates that by 2015 the number of children apprehended while traveling alone could grow to 142,000.
The government has previously estimated that more than 60,000 children could be apprehended along the border this year. All the estimates are for the government’s fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Children apprehended with their parents are not part of this count of illegal border crossings.
Most of the children caught crossing alone are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and have been apprehended in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector in South Texas. That sector is the now the Border Patrol’s busiest area along the Mexican border and has seen a significant increase in the number of border crossers from Central America. …
The spike in children trying cross the border alone has forced DHS to divert resources away from other missions, including combating human and drug trafficking, Vitiello wrote in his four-page memo.
The increase in apprehensions has also led the government to fly some migrants who are from countries other than Mexico to other parts of the border, including Arizona, for processing by Border Patrol agents in less-busy sectors. Many families from countries other than Mexico have been released on their own recognizance in the U.S. while they await deportation proceedings in immigration court.
Releasing those people and taking other actions such as reuniting children caught alone at the border with parents or other relatives already in the U.S. serve as “incentives to additional individuals to follow the same path,” Vitiello wrote.
The number of children found trying to cross the Mexican border without parents has spiked in recent years. Between 2008 and 2011, 6,000 to 7,500 children per year ended up in the custody of the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. In 2012 border agents apprehended 13,625 unaccompanied children and that number surged to more than 24,000 last year.
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