For several weeks now, the United States has been dealing with the humanitarian crisis at the border. Since May, there was an unprecedented surge in unaccompanied and undocumented minors attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of these children were coming from Central American countries that have been experiencing terrible violence. These countries include El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Those who have been following this issue contemplate that one explanation for the increase in attempted crossings by these minors is that they are willing to risk their lives in order to escape the violence.
While the number of unaccompanied children being apprehended at the border has actually decreased in July and the beginning of August, there is still plenty of work to do and issues to resolve. One sector that is currently feeling the pressure is the court system. Under a 2008 federal law, unaccompanied children who are apprehended at the border must receive due process, unless they are Mexican or Canadian. This means that the majority of these children cannot be automatically deported back to their home countries. These children have been processed and are awaiting immigration hearings. These minors may have to wait months or even years for their court date. In addition, immigration courts and judges were overwhelmed with work even before these most recent circumstances. An article posted on azcentral.com discusses how immigration courts are dealing with the problem.
The article, written by Daniel González, begins by describing a Honduras boy's first appearance in front of an immigration judge in Phoenix. The hearing only lasted a few minutes. Up until his hearing, the 17-year-old was staying at a shelter in Phoenix. Now that his first hearing is over, he is allowed to go to California and stay with a friend of the family. It is likely that his case will be transferred to a different court.
With so many children needing court dates and so many cases being transferred to other states, it is not surprising to hear that there are many children who fail to show for their hearing. While there were many Central American minors processed in Arizona, the majority did not get placed here. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “[o]f the 30,340 unaccompanied children released to family members or other sponsors this year through July 7, only 186 have been placed in Arizona.” Texas topped the list with 4,280, then New York with 3,347, Florida was ranked third at 3,181, and California rounded out the top four with 3,150.
A representative from the Migration Policy Institute said that this high number of new juvenile cases “has added to a record backlog of all immigration cases that already exceeds 375,000.” He went on to say that it could take years for all of these cases to be settled.
If you are facing an immigration matter, do not hesitate to contact my office. My associates and I have helped many people in Southern Arizona with immigration issues and we can help you, too.