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Immigration Law

Refugee Kids Face Uneven Justice

"After fleeing Central America, child migrants now face a very uneven brand of justice in U.S. immigration courts, where access to a lawyer and the location of the court itself are often the deciding variables in who stays and who doesn’t. A POLITICO analysis of government data shows that fully 88 percent of the removal orders issued since July have gone to children without an attorney.  What’s more, a juvenile assigned to judges in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia in the past 16 months was at least three times more likely to receive such an order than a child in California, Florida or New York. ... POLITICO examined data provided directly by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees the courts, as well as a broader set of numbers also collected from EOIR by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit based at Syracuse University in New York.  Any such analysis is complicated by the fact that EOIR began a new coding system for the unaccompanied children in the middle of the crisis last summer.  But taken together, the sample — cross-checked against other reports by the Department of Homeland Security — offers a fair benchmark for the cases over the past 16 months. ... Having legal counsel emerges as a huge asset for the children.  Many have difficulty with English, and some from Guatemala speak a Mayan dialect, rather than Spanish.  The government always has a lawyer on its side; the child without counsel is at an immense disadvantage. ... As a rule, juveniles can’t be sent back alone to their home countries until they reach 18.  The end result is the creation of a new class of young migrants, living under a legal cloud that makes it harder for them to plan their future.  This can be especially true for those who agree to voluntary departure — and then attempt to stay.  At first blush, voluntary departure can seem a more attractive option than a removal order.  Deportation carries with it penalties that make it harder for an individual ever to come back to the  U.S. A child who agrees to voluntary departure enjoys more of a clean slate, almost a “no harm, no foul” arrangement that makes it easier to apply to re-enter the U.S. legally in the future.  The catch is that the removal order is subject to appeal, whereas a child who agrees to voluntary departure and then stays past the allotted time — typically 120 days — has given up all chance of finding a lawyer and filing an appeal.  “You can’t ask for voluntary departure and not complete it. That’s serious,” said Salmon.  “But if you are fleeing gang recruitment and threat of death, can you really safely go home? The second you overstay, it converts to an order of removal and it carries with it a 10-year bar to any adjustment.”  The fact that hundreds of children are making this type of decision without legal counsel is a major concern for immigrant-rights advocates.  “The kids who do end up with orders and voluntary [departure], you are really creating a situation where it’s a gray area again,” said Jenna Carl, an attorney and deputy director for immigration and legal services at Catholic Charities in Dallas.  “And yes, they are going to have a shadow over them.”  “It dramatically changes their ability to succeed,” said Salmon.  “We’ve seen it because for kids to work with our foundation we tell them they have to stay in school, they have to learn English, they have to stay out of trouble.  We are very clear about what the expectations are.  “If you then turn around and tell a kid now you’ve got a removal order, 90 percent of these kids want to drop out of school,” Salmon said.  “You are really marginalizing the most vulnerable among us.” " - David Rogers, Politico, Mar. 5, 2015.