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 Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora