New surge in child mi­grants re­news fo­cus on de­por­ta­tions

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark K. Matthews

wash­ing­ton » As fed­eral of­fi­cials pre­pare for a new wave of child mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica— which in­cludes the open­ing of a new, 1,000- bed fa­cil­ity in Lake­wood— new sta­tis­tics show that U. S. courts still are try­ing to process cases from the last ma­jor surge in 2014.

That year, an es­ti­mated 68,000 chil­dren — mostly from El Salvador, Gu­atemala and Hon­duras— were ap­pre­hended as they tried to cross the U. S. bor­der il­le­gally and with­out a par­ent.

Many of th­ese cases re­main un­der re­view, ac­cord--

ing to fed­eral records, and the back­log in im­mi­gra­tion courts could get worse as au­thor­i­ties deal with thou­sands of new chil­dren who ar­rived at the end of 2015.

The fed­eral sys­tem is “bet­ter pre­pared, but it’s not fully pre­pared,” said Wendy Young, pres­i­dent of Kids in Need of De­fense, which helps mi­grant chil­dren get le­gal help.

Be­tween July 2014 and De­cem­ber, the Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view said it re­ceived nearly 50,000 new charg­ing doc­u­ments formi­grant chil­dren. Dur­ing that pe­riod, how­ever, fewer than 21,000 cases were com­pleted.

Of those “ini­tial case com­ple­tions,” the de­ci­sions were a coin flip: About half the chil­dren were or­dered re­moved from the coun­try. It’s a sys­tem that im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­neys said is of­ten un­fair and one that fed­eral sta­tis­tics show is bur­dened by de­mand and un­cer­tainty.

For ex­am­ple, in 8,510 of the 9,695 re­moval cases— or 88 per­cent — the or­ders were is­sued in ab­sen­tia, mean­ing the chil­dren weren’t at the hear­ing.

The fate of those chil­dren is of­ten un­known.

Of­fi­cials with the Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­viewre­ferred those ques­tions to theU. S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, which did not re­turn phone calls seek­ing an­swers on how many of those chil­dren were de­ported.

But fed­eral au­thor­i­ties de­fended the process.

“For an in ab­sen­tia or­der of re­moval to be is­sued, the im­mi­gra­tion judge­must find that proper no­tice­was given and that the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has es­tab­lished re­mov­abil­ity,” wrote Kathryn Mat­tingly, a spokeswom­an­for theEx­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view, in a state­ment.

Im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists have com­plained the re­moval or­ders is­sued in ab­sen­tia aren’t fair — be­cause the chil­dren of­ten are not ready.

Court sta­tis­tics have shown a child’s chance to re­main in the U. S. largely is de­pen­dent on whether he or she is rep­re­sented by an at­tor­ney. Be­tween 2005 and 2014, U. S. im­mi­gra­tion courts heard more than 100,000 cases of un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren.

The ones with a lawyer were al­lowed to stay nearly half the time. Those with­out anat­tor­ney­were toldto leave the coun­try 90 per­cent of the time, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral records ob­tained by Syra­cuse Univer­sity.

“Chil­dren who are rep­re­sented by coun­sel are five times as likely to be granted some kind of sta­tus and re­main in the United States,” Young said.

She added that child mi­grants are get­ting rep­re­sen­ta­tion about half the time, al­though she said she was wor­ried a new spike in bor­der cross­ings could have an im­pact. “I’m think­ing the rate of rep­re­sen­ta­tion may drop down again,” she said.

Other sta­tis­tics com­piled by Syra­cuseUniver­sity show U. S. im­mi­gra­tion courts have strug­gled to meet the de­mand. As of De­cem­ber, there were nearly 470,000 cases of all ages pend­ing in U. S. im­mi­gra­tion courts — an all- time high.

The wait is par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced in Den­ver, where, as ofAug. 31, the pro­jected wait time was 1,988 days, the se­cond high­est in the na­tion.

One rea­son for the grow­ing caseload was the flood of child mi­grants who ar­rived in 2014.

A new in­flux is rais­ing con­cerns again.

In the last three months of 2015, au­thor­i­ties stopped more than 17,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren — more than twice the num­ber they ap­pre­hended dur­ing that pe­riod in 2014.

The wave has com­pelled the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to pre­pare three new shel­ters, in­clud­ing one in Lake­wood that is ex­pected to open in April.

The fa­cil­ity is prompt­ing ques­tions from lo­cal im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­neys. Ab­bie John­son, of the Rocky Moun­tain Im­mi­grantAd­vo­cacy Net­work, said it’s un­clear what ac­cess to coun­sel that chil­dren in the fa­cil­i­ty­will re­ceive at the cen­ter.

And while most of the chil­dren will be sent to rel­a­tives across the coun­try — where their cases will be heard in lo­cal courts— she said she wanted to know what would hap­pen to the chil­dren who aren’t con­nected with a rel­a­tive or spon­sor fam­ily, and­whether those cases would be heard in the busy Den­ver courts.

“I don’t think it will be a huge num­ber,” John­son said, “but it is also an un­known.”

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