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New York City Task Force Fights Expedited Deportations of Unaccompanied Minors

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First Posted: Aug 13, 2014 09:20 AM EDT
New Yorkers sets up pro bono legal task force to help child immigrants coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, L-R front row, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council member Carlos Menchaca and Steven Choi, New York Immigration Coalition
New Yorkers sets up pro bono legal task force to help child immigrants coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, L-R front row, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council member Carlos Menchaca and Steven Choi, New York Immigration Coalition (Photo : Rebecca S. Myles)

A senior New York elected official announced on Tuesday at City Hall the creation of a legal taskforce to help give assistance to children arriving in the state from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

"In less than 24 hours, the first of nearly 3,500 unaccompanied children -- many of whom have been witness to and experienced heinous crimes in their home countries -- will enter New York State to face deportation proceedings, said Letitia James, New York Public Advocate. "New York State is second only to Texas in the number of unaccompanied children hosted, followed by Florida with 3,181 and California with 3,150. These children, as young as five years old, come without any knowledge of our legal system and are expected to represent themselves in immigration court."

The Immigration Task Force will be run out of the Advocate's office to help partners recruit and train pro-bono attorneys to serve at the juvenile surge docket in Immigration Court at 26 Federal Plaza. The New York Immigration Coalition, Catholic Charities, Legal Aid Society and the Door provide resources to children and their families and also provide clinics around the city to train attorneys who would like to lend their services but need an overview of immigration family law to act in these specialized proceedings involving unaccompanied children.

"As a public advocate and an attorney with Legal Aid Society, I will also serve as an attorney in this capacity pro-bono," said James, "to ensure that all children are protected from violence, abuse and exploitation regardless of their status."

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Often children are appearing in court without interpretators or legal representation and are unable to make their case as to why they might need asylum or refugee status. The judges in these cases typically recommend deportation. 

Joining James was Steven Choi from the New York Immigration Coalition, City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, and Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Perez asked if the expedited immigration proceedings were because the children were seen as a political liability after a 10-year congressional stalemate on immigration reform. There are already 3,700 cases pending before the Immigration Court, with many immigrants and minors waiting months and years for a hearing.

"America is in the middle of a huge humanity crisis. At the border, Latino families are being detained in unprecedented numbers with the federal government sometimes opposing their release claiming national security grounds. The Justice Department Executive Office of Immigration Review for some unknown reason is rushing to speed up deportation hearings against Latino children who are being detained at the border by implementing an ill-guided expedited immigration removal process being referred to as a 'rocket dockets," said Perez.  

Perez added, "Why are Latino children ...being singled out for 'special treatment'? And instead of being placed at the back of the line they are being moved to the front of the line in violation of typical existing procedures or protocols governing how juvenile immigrants are typically treated. We are very concerned that immigration judges have not been previously trained in these juvenile immigration cases."

Perez said the immigration judges are under pressure to meet case completion goals and push out children and families before they've had a change to consult with legal counsel, a violation of American law.

Perez said a civil rights lawsuit has been filed in Washington, D.C. against federal agencies asking for a stay in any expedited proceedings. The suit needs class certification; once it is granted it would have a national effect.

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