News / USA

'Safe Passage' Brings Legal Aid to Children Facing Deportation

'Safe Passage' Brings Legal Aid to Children Facing Deportationi
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

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs