Thursday, August 13, 2009
Unaccompanied Minors Project Underway at Appleseed
Each year, thousands of immigrant children living in the United States - whether asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, or in some cases, even misidentified American citizens - are apprehended by authorities. For those without a parent or legal guardian - nearly 8,000 in 2006 - detention and repatriation proceedings are too often unjust, exploitative or downright dangerous.
Accordingly, Appleseed is working to protect the rights of these unaccompanied minors (UAMs), ensuring that once apprehended, they are treated humanely and not deprived of due process. As part of that effort, teams of attorneys generously donated by Mayer Brown, DLA Piper and Akin Gump are conducting on-site examinations of detention centers across the country, most recently in Texas.
These site visits, which will help Appleseed identify and redress problems in the UAM detention system, include facilities inspections; a review of contracts, practices and policies; and interviews with both UAM and staff.
Most detained children are taken into custody at U.S. ports of entry or along the Mexican border. UAM tasking is split between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is responsible for apprehension, transfer and repatriation, and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Removal (ORR), which provides long-term detention and foster placement.
Overall, the goals of the Unaccompanied Minors project include:
Ensuring that minors detained by DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are treated in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Flores Settlement Agreement, the Trafficking Act, and all other applicable laws, regulations and orders
Ensuring that "voluntary departures" (i.e. deportations with the minor's consent) are truly voluntary and conscious decisions by unaccompanied minors and, to that end, providing detainees with pro bono legal representation and/or an independent advocate
Ensuring some form of independent ongoing monitoring of conduct toward unaccompanied minors by authorites.
Ensuring that UAMs, when repatriated, are reunited with their families or, when that either is not possible or would expose the child to imminent risk of serious harm, that he or she is placed with an appropriate child welfare agency of the relevant foreign jurisdiction
Appleseed's UAM project grew out of the relationship established between Mexico Appleseed's Executive Director, Maru Cortázar, and the First Lady of Mexico, Margarita Zavala during the "Creating a Pro Bono Network in Mexico" event in January 2008. As keynote speaker, Ms. Zavala expressed her interest in collaborating with Appleseed on a project that assessed the detention conditions and DHS protocols regarding UAM and their subsequent repatriation to Mexico.
Please check the Appleseed website in the coming weeks as additional information about this important project is posted.