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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs