Julia Preston's recent NYtimes article, "More Young Illegal Immigrants Face Deportation," reports on the recent surge of illegal immigrant children, crossing the southern border into Texas alone in the past year. Most of these young immigrants come from El Salvador, Guatemela, and Honduras. With the number of Mexican immigrants crossing over into the United States dropping, it is interesting to consider the surge of children coming in. 
Most of the young immigrants have family already in the United States who have paid, up to $5,000 for them to be smuggled across the border. 

Already in this year alone, 11,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained and have had to face a judge in court. Preston reminds us that in immigration court "there is no right to a lawyer paid by the government for people who cannot afford one," and this extends to children. This means that most of these 11,000 children have to "defend" themselves when their cases are tried. I use "defend" loosely as most of these children do not know where they are, what the United States is, why they have to speak to a judge, and why they are in trouble. And they do not know English. With judges struggling to offer fair hearings to these children, and simultaneously following the court of law, advocacy groups must come in on behalf of the children. There has been a push by Kids in Need of Defense, known as KIND, for pro-bono lawyers to take on this excess of cases. The organization cannot keep up with the growing demand for cases, which according to Preston appears as though is going to be the "new normal". The children who are not immediately deported, which in most cases there is a waiting period, often because of their minor status, are detained in federal shelters. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice, found that "as many as 40 percent of unaccompanied minors who were detained in federal shelters were eligible for some kind of legal immigration status." The problem therefore rests in getting these children adequate legal representation.

We have chosen to highlight this story because, in the spirit of VOTP, these children need a larger "voice". Thanks to accidental birth and a multitude of economic realities south AND north of the border, these children are not only voiceless, but faceless. Becoming a statistic does not help anyone because we, as those participating in the anti-immigration/pro-immigration debate in this country forget we are talking about living breathing humans, and in this case, helpless children. So, I argue that first we give these children a face, and then let us help them find their voice in a court of law. Give them a face in the national media and the reality that the immigration debate is more complicated than "send them back" or "we have no jobs because of immigrants" takes on new dimensions. 

When our immigration courts do not even lend adult immigrants a defense, or legal voice, how do we choose to handle children? Are we a nation that abandons the completely helpless?  Why aren't immigrant advocacy groups blowing this issue up in the media? 

I urge you to read Preston's complete article, available in the hyper-link above. Get the dialogue going. Who is responsible for helping those who end up on the wrong side of history? And how? 
 





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