Juveniles who fled to U.S. on their own are filling up Immigration Court system

Many don't have attorneys
Posted at 12:00 AM, Jul 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-12 02:00:43-04

DENVER -- Immigration Courts across the U.S. are seeing increasing numbers of juveniles now facing deportation.

Pre-teens and teens from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, many who came to the U.S. on their own, to escape violence and to seek a better life, are now being summoned to Immigration Court.

"These court proceedings will determine whether they're allowed to stay in the U.S. with some sort of legal status, or whether they're sent back home to the country they came from," said Ashley Harrington, the managing attorney at Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network - Children's Program, a nonprofit dedicated to helping ensure justice for immigrant children who have suffered from abuse, neglect or violence.

Among the cases heard in Judge Alison Kane's courtroom Wednesday was one involving a 15 year old boy and his 17 year old sister.

The siblings apparently came to the U.S. with family members, who later kicked them out of the house.

Their mom took them back to Mexico and they later came back to the U.S. on their own. 

The Office of Refugee Settlement released the siblings to a family friend who is trying to help shepherd them through the immigration court system.

"On their Notice to Appear," said Judge Kane, "which is exhibit one, the Department (of Homeland Security) doesn't  believe they are citizens of the U.S., but are of Mexico."

She noted that the teenagers came to the U.S. on November 9, 2017 and asked for permission to stay, but did not have Visas or border crossing cards.

"These stories are incredibly common right now," Harrington said. "What you saw was a glimpse of one day, in one courtroom, in one city."

She said most of the kids are fighting deportation on their own, because it's a "civil" matter, not criminal. 

Immigration judges don't have the authority to appoint legal counsel for those without.

"The same thing is happening almost every day," she said, "where kids, who have fled horrific violence and really terrible conditions in their home country, have come here to ask for help and are forced to defend themselves from getting deported back to the home countries that they fled by themselves.

Harrington said those who secure representation are the "lucky ones," who have a far better chance of being allowed to remain.

"Those without," she said, "will most likely be deported back."

She said many could face violence, or even death.