More unaccompanied kids end up in deportation proceedings

The judge called his next case, scanning the courtroom.
The immigrant who was facing deportation rose to his feet, in a clean T-shirt and khaki pants several sizes too large, with his name — JUAN — printed on a tag around his neck.
But the judge could not see him. Juan’s head did not rise above the court’s benches.

Juan David Gonzalez was 6 years old. He was in the court, which would decide whether to expel him from the country, without a parent — and also without a lawyer.
Immigration courts in this South Texas border town and across the country are confronting an unexpected surge of children, some of them barely school age, who traveled here without parents and were caught as they tried to cross illegally into the United States.
The young people, mostly from Mexico and Central America, ride to the border on the roofs of freight trains or the backs of buses. They crossed the Rio Grande on inner tubes, or hike for days through extremes of heat and chill in Arizona deserts. The smallest children, like Juan, are most often brought by smugglers.
The youths pose troubling difficulties for American immigration courts. Unlike in criminal or family courts, in immigration court there is no right to a lawyer paid by the government for people who cannot afford one.
And immigration law contains few protections specifically for minors. So even a child as young as Juan has to go before an immigration judge — confronting a prosecutor and trying to fight deportation — without the help of a lawyer, if one is not privately provided.
This year, more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed in deportation proceedings, nearly double last year’s numbers.
Young migrants say they are fleeing escalating criminal violence in their home countries. Federal agencies have scrambled to muster adequate detention facilities, while legal advocates try to find lawyers to represent them. Judges, for their part, have struggled to offer fair hearings to penniless youths who speak little English and often do not even understand why they are in court.
The influx has heightened concerns that young people without legal help may not be able to obtain even the most basic justice.
‘‘It is almost impossible for children to receive relief in immigration court on their own,’’ said Meredith Linsky, the director of the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, known as ProBAR, a nonprofit organization that defends young migrants in the region. ‘‘The reality is they cannot comprehend the system and what is being asked of them.’’
Juan David Gonzalez was just another illegal border crosser on Judge Howard E. Achtsam’s docket one recent day.
Boston Globe

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