News / USA

'Safe Passage' Brings Legal Aid to Children Facing Deportation

'Safe Passage' Brings Legal Aid to Children Facing Deportationi
X
May 09, 2014 4:05 AM
Growing numbers of undocumented children are facing deportation proceedings in U.S. immigration courts. Some, from Central America, were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. Others, from Europe or Africa, came to the United States as tourists, but have overstayed their visas. A New York law project works to provide attorneys to these youths in immigration court -- where minors facing deportation usually have no advocate.Carolyn Weaver reports.
Carolyn Weaver
Isik Basirir was 15 years old when she left her family's home in Turkey and moved to New York to live with an older sister. However, when she overstayed her tourist visa, she joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of undocumented youths living in the shadows in the U.S.
 
"My sister obtained a green card, I guess a couple of years after I got here, but she didn't have her citizenship back then, so she wasn't able to sponsor me," Basirir said. "We went to private lawyers, to ask if there's anything we could do. But they always said ‘no,’ like there's no way."
 
She finally found her way to the Safe Passage Project, begun in 2006 by Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School. The program trains and matches volunteer pro bono attorneys with children who need representation in immigration court, or who are facing deportation.
 
Benson says the need is stark: although U.S. immigration law grants children special legal protections, it does not entitle them to lawyers to help secure those rights.
 
At a recent fundraiser for the project, Benson told of a case involving a toddler named Ian.
 
"Last month, there was a 3-year-old sitting in that deportation chair," she said. "You have a government prosecutor, you have a judge on the bench, and you have the child sitting with a translator and, in this case, a grandmother. And if the Safe Passage Project were not there, there would be no one standing up for that 3-year-old, or helping that grandmother navigate the court system."
 
In the past, Benson said in an interview, children and youths under 18 were rarely pursued by immigration authorities. That changed about seven years ago, she said, and the policy has accelerated under the Obama administration.
 
"Children apprehended at the border are no longer simply being released or put on a back shelf," she said. "They're put into deportation proceedings."
 
The great majority of those in legal jeopardy are Central American teenagers who crossed the Mexican border into the U.S., often to reunite with a parent or other family member already in the U.S.
 
Under treaty law, only Mexican youths may be returned immediately. Federal authorities place other children with family members in the U.S., if any can be found, in foster care, or in immigration detention centers for juveniles.
 
"If they apprehend a parent and child together, they will keep them together, and they do have a few detention centers where they can keep them together. But if a parent has a criminal record or is seen as a national security problem, they might be separated," Benson said.
 
In Westchester County, just north of New York City, Benson said, "there are 350 kids in detention every day. Some are there for a few days, and some for months."
 
"On the positive side, the federal government wants to interview children to make sure that they're not being trafficked," she went on. "[In] sex trafficking, labor trafficking, young people are particularly vulnerable. So, our asylum officers and border patrol officers are trained to try to identify victims of trafficking."
 
Yet the system often fails even children who have been trafficked, she said. "We might identify that [child victim], and then put them into federal detention. We don't necessarily have an easy way for them to get released into a long-term foster care placement and get immigration status."
 
"Most of the young people we've met, there's a reason they don't want to go home: not just dire poverty, but real danger in their communities," Benson added.
 
Some youths, like 16-year-old Ousmane Barry, ended up in the U.S. before they were old enough to choose. His parents brought him from Guinea eight years ago. They are both now dead, and he lives with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx.
 
"Life is good over here. Soccer is good, too," he joked at a recent practice. Barry's coaches say he is unusually talented, and can look forward to a college athletic career, perhaps even a professional one. That would not have been likely, however, before Safe Passage Project lawyers won him legal residency earlier this year.
 
"It means a lot, because now I can travel outside the country and come back in, and go, like I want to visit my country. I could go there and come back," Barry said.
 
"There's an irony in my work," Benson said. "I don't want the government to put children into removal proceedings, but because they are being pushed into deportation, we're able to help find them pro bono counsel, and the promise of these protections is made real. If they weren't being put into removal, they'd live undocumented, and they would grow up with nothing."
 
Yet Safe Passage and similar projects lack the resources to help more than a few children facing deportation, and the numbers are surging. In New York alone, more than 5,000 current immigration cases involve juveniles. And the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service predicts that more than 60,000 minors will be apprehended at the Mexican border in 2014.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs