Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rise in Unaccompanied Minors

From WBEZ in Chicago:

An often-forgotten fact in the immigration debate is that lately, surreptitious border crossings to the U.S. have stagnated. Except that’s not the case for one category of immigrants: unaccompanied children.  In just the last couple of years, the number of minors apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol has nearly tripled. Many of these kids come through Chicago, where agencies are scrambling to handle the load.

' ' 'Most unaccompanied youth are detained near the border, but many end up in Chicago -- one of the largest off-the-border hubs for unaccompanied minors in the U.S. In the last two years, the number of children brought to federal detention facilities here has exploded, from fewer than 400 in 2011 to nearly 1,300 a year later. The Chicago area used to have just one child detention facility; today, it has seven, in undisclosed locations.

The spike in Chicago mirrors a national trend. The Office of Refugee Resettlement expects to handle more than 23,000 children this year, triple what it saw two years ago.

“A lot of them are just fleeing violence or fleeing some sort of bad situation,” said Ellen Miller, an attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, which represents all unaccompanied children in federal custody in Chicago. Miller said most of the increase is coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

. . . “Right now kids are expected to find their own attorneys,” said Maria Woltjen, Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago. Woltjen said non-government agencies try to find pro-bono attorneys for these kids, but sometimes they can’t.

“We expect these kids to walk into that federal building, to find the courtroom, to go into that courtroom and figure out what to do,” she said. “And there’s nobody there to receive them, there’s no one there to greet them.” According to Miller, some children that come to Chicago are as young as five years old, too short even to see above the bench in a courtroom.

Woltjen thinks there should be other changes, as well. She believes there should be a separate court system for immigrant minors, kind of like juvenile criminal court. Right now, kids are often on the same docket as adults. Read more...
Currently, federal regulations require DHS to refer children under the age of 18 to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours of their apprehension. ORR is specifically tasked to work with unaccompanied immigrant children, placing the kids in a network of shelters offering mental and physical support, translators, recreational activities and family reunification services.

However, the DHS data shows more than 1,300 children were detained in adult facilities for more than three days. Across 13 states, approximately 390 undocumented immigrant minors were held for more than a month in county jails, detention centers and private prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Of that number, 15 were held in adult detention facilities for more than three months, and four were detained for between 1,000 and 3,600 days.

. . . On average, ORR serves between 7,000 and 8,000 children annually. That number soared to 13,625 children in fiscal year 2012. By the end of this year, the office is expecting to have served 23,000 children.

And those are only the children referred to ORR by immigration authorities. The actual number may be much higher, as suggested by Customs and Border Patrol, which says its agents apprehended 31,029 juveniles in fiscal year 2012. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another DHS branch, has not released its numbers. Read more....

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