There is perhaps no group more in immigration news in recent months than unaccompanied minors, especially those coming from Latin America. In the past few years, ever since an explosion of gang violence in Central and South America, a steady flood of unaccompanied minors has come to the border between the United States and Mexico, seeking asylum or other forms of relief. However, many have found not relief, but suffering of a different kind.
Migration Statistics Show Trends
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) states that while children from all over the world immigrate or seek asylum in the United States, as many as 75 percent of them have been boys from El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras, at least since 2009. There are multiple reasons for this, none of which have to do with any kind of gang-related or otherwise malicious motives, as has sometimes been alleged.
Generally, travel is safer for boys, especially those between the ages of 15 and 18, given that in many Central American countries, boys begin to work or even live independently at these ages. Also, far fewer boys fall victim to sex traffickers, which is an obvious deterrent to sending young girls north alone.
Since 2003, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has helped to settle over 175,000 unaccompanied minor children into places in the United States, with peaks being reached in 2009 and 2014. While these children apply for relief—usually either asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile status, or a T visa (for victims of human trafficking)—they are usually placed with either a foster home or with a sponsor (usually a relative). However, no real special protections are given to them as potential asylees or refugees, and this can lead to minor children being asked to undertake tasks that many adults find daunting.
Little Special Treatment Given
Despite the precarious situations that many unaccompanied minors find themselves in upon arrival in the United States, very little help is granted to them in terms of obtaining any kind of legal status. There is no hard and fast rule granting them legal counsel in hearings—indeed, until recently, there was no precedent established that granted unaccompanied minors the right to a hearing before an immigration judge. They are interned in detention centers such as the one in Dilley, TX, if they cannot obtain a foster placement or they have no sponsor.
George W. Bush signed the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2008 which ostensibly solidified protections for minors, such as different time frames for filing asylum requests and permitting asylum claims to be filed affirmatively, rather than defensively (that is, not beginning removal proceedings before an asylum claim is made). However, testimonies and agency procedures since then show that very little has in fact changed regarding the treatment of unaccompanied minors. Arguably, the treatment has worsened even more in recent months.
Ask an Experienced Attorney for Help
If you have a loved one in this situation, or you are an unaccompanied minor and need an attorney, we may be able to help. The dedicated Chicago immigration lawyers at Mevorah Law Offices LLC understand just how frightening this situation can be, and we will work hard to try to get you out of it. Call our office today to set up a free consultation.
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