WBEZ | unaccompanied minors http://www.wbez.org/tags/unaccompanied-minors Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Study: Undocumented immigrant youth languish in adult jails http://www.wbez.org/news/study-undocumented-immigrant-youth-languish-adult-jails-107539 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Immigrant children_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A Chicago-based immigrant advocacy group has obtained data showing many unaccompanied immigrant youth are held in adult detention facilities longer than federally prescribed.</p><p>The National Immigrant Justice Center, which represents children who pass through federal custody facilities in the Chicago area, received the numbers after a two-year legal battle with the Department of Homeland Security. As part of a settlement, the <a href="http://www.immigrantjustice.org/sites/immigrantjustice.org/files/NIJC%20Fact%20Sheet%20Minors%20in%20ICE%20Custody%202013%2005%2030%20FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">NIJC secured information from 30 of the more than 200 adult immigrant detention facilities across the country</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;The government is failing to provide even the most basic protection for children,&rdquo; said Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of NIJC. &ldquo;Our system has designed a place that&rsquo;s age-appropriate for immigrant children, and that&rsquo;s not adult detention facilities that are jails.&rdquo;</p><p>According to the data, more than 1,300 children were kept at adult immigration detention centers for more than three days between 2008 and 2012. Three of those facilities, the Jefferson County Jail, McHenry County Jail, and Tri-County Jail, are in Illinois.</p><p>Under the <a href="http://www.justice.gov/olp/pdf/wilberforce-act.pdf" target="_blank">Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008</a>, unaccompanied immigrant minors are required to be transferred to the federal Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of apprehension. The law makes an allowance for exceptional circumstances, particularly if the child is thought to pose a threat to national security. But McCarthy says she doubts that accounts for many cases.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s something else behind this number, which is very unclear to me what&rsquo;s driving this,&rdquo; said McCarthy. WBEZ has reported that in the last two years, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/sharp-rise-young-unaccompanied-illegal-immigrants-tests-us-107511" target="_blank">the U.S. has seen a tripling of unaccompanied immigrant minors</a>, largely coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Many of them pass through Chicago while in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under HHS.</p><p>A <a href="http://womensrefugeecommission.org/forced-from-home-press-kit">2012 survey</a> by the Women&rsquo;s Refugee Commission found similar stories among roughly 150 children who immigrated illegally to the U.S. without adults. It found that many children reported being detained in overcrowded, low-temperature holding cells at adult detention facilities, at times denied blankets, adequate food, and showers. Most important, said McCarthy, is that children there are denied access to legal counsel.</p><p>In a written response to the NIJC report, ICE stated:</p><p>&ldquo;ICE takes the responsibility of caring for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) seriously and as of 2008, unaccompanied minors are not permitted to be detained by ICE for any longer than is necessary for Health and Human Services (HHS) to take custody of the minor. &nbsp;It is against ICE policy to detain an unaccompanied minor for more than 72 hours and in no instance will an unaccompanied minor be housed in an ICE detention facility while awaiting transfer to HHS. Unaccompanied minors are carefully kept in staging facilities away from the general population and minors are only held in ICE custody when accompanied by their parents in a facility designed to house families.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="http://www.twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a>&nbsp;and at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.twitter.com/WBEZOutLoud" target="_blank">@WBEZOutLoud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 05 Jun 2013 08:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-undocumented-immigrant-youth-languish-adult-jails-107539 Sharp rise in young, unaccompanied illegal immigrants tests U.S. http://www.wbez.org/news/sharp-rise-young-unaccompanied-illegal-immigrants-tests-us-107511 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Immigrant children.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An often-forgotten fact in the immigration debate is that lately, <a href="http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois_ill_pe_2011.pdf">illegal border crossings to the U.S. have stagnated</a>. Except that&rsquo;s not the case for one category of immigrants: unaccompanied children.&nbsp; In just the last couple of years, the number of minors apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol has nearly tripled. Many of these kids come through Chicago, where agencies are scrambling to handle the load.</p><p>&ldquo;My brother, he called me and was telling me about the risk, but I just didn&rsquo;t listen to that,&rdquo; said Juan Cordoba, a young 17-year old whose real name WBEZ is withholding because he is an undocumented minor. &ldquo;I just thought that I wanted to be here, that I wanted to help my family.&rdquo;</p><p>With his attorney providing translation, Cordoba tells of how he was finishing high school in Honduras, living with his mother, stepfather and sisters, when he decided there was no point staying there.</p><p>&ldquo;As we all know, Honduras has a lot of corruption problems, there&rsquo;s a lot of violence, there&rsquo;s not a lot of opportunities,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and so as young people, we graduate and then you have no options, there&rsquo;s no jobs available, there&rsquo;s nothing.&rdquo; Cordoba said he believed there would be job opportunities in the U.S., so he decided to leave his family for what he hoped would be a better future.</p><p>It took Juan two months to cross Honduras and Mexico by bus and on foot. He ended up in McAllen, Texas, near the border. But then things fell apart. Juan fell into the hands of U.S. Border Security officials, who threw him into a federal detention facility.</p><p>&ldquo;It was really bad. They don&rsquo;t treat you nice,&rdquo; he remembered. &ldquo;They don&rsquo;t treat you like a human, they treat you like an animal. It was just not good.&rdquo;</p><p>Juan has two brothers in Chicago, so immigration enforcement transferred him to a child center here, in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.* He was released after a few weeks to stay with his brothers as his immigration case proceeds.</p><p>Most unaccompanied youth are detained near the border, but many, like Juan, end up in Chicago -- one of the largest off-the-border hubs for unaccompanied minors in the U.S. In the last two years, the number of children brought to federal detention facilities here has exploded, from fewer than 400 in 2011 to nearly 1,300 a year later. The Chicago area used to have just one child detention facility; today, it has seven, in undisclosed locations.</p><p>The spike in Chicago mirrors a national trend. The Office of Refugee Resettlement expects to handle more than 23,000 children this year, triple what it saw two years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of them are just fleeing violence or fleeing some sort of bad situation,&rdquo; said Ellen Miller, an attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, which represents all unaccompanied children in federal custody in Chicago. Miller said most of the increase is coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of them are coming to reunite with their family members who are already here,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Some of them, yes, we do have suspicion that there is other motivations in making them come here,&rdquo; she added, alluding to common cases in which children are trafficked to the U.S. for sex against their will. She said this is a particularly big problem with children who arrive from India and China.</p><p>The sudden influx has highlighted problems with how the U.S. handles these children. Lawyers like Miller represent them while they&rsquo;re here in federal detention centers.<br />But often that only lasts a few weeks, until they&rsquo;re placed in the custody of someone else, usually a family member. When that happens, the children are often flown out of Chicago, and the relationships with their attorneys ends. But their immigration cases must continue in the place they now live.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now kids are expected to find their own attorneys,&rdquo; said Maria Woltjen, Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children&rsquo;s Rights at the University of Chicago. Woltjen said non-government agencies try to find pro-bono attorneys for these kids, but sometimes they can&rsquo;t.</p><p>&ldquo;We expect these kids to walk into that federal building, to find the courtroom, to go into that courtroom and figure out what to do,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And there&rsquo;s nobody there to receive them, there&rsquo;s no one there to greet them.&rdquo; According to Miller, some children that come to Chicago are as young as five years old, too short even to see above the bench in a courtroom.</p><p>Woltjen thinks there should be other changes, as well. She believes there should be a separate court system for immigrant minors, kind of like juvenile criminal court. Right now, kids are often on the same docket as adults.</p><p>&ldquo;We actually were accompanying a released child to court,&rdquo; recalled Woltjen, &ldquo;she was about 16 years old, and the judge, who was a very good judge...(hears an) adult case, adult case, adult case, and then this child&rsquo;s case, and the judge called her &lsquo;ma&rsquo;am.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Woltjen said judges and immigration officials are struggling with the increase in numbers, too. Without lawyers for the kids, they&rsquo;re often unsure if deportation is safe or in the kids&rsquo; best interest.</p><p>But Woltjen said the stress on the system may end up being a good thing.</p><p>&ldquo;It is putting more attention on this population of children,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I think it&rsquo;s not only the NGO advocates who are pushing for changes in the system, but right now we think also the government agencies would like to see a change in the system.&rdquo;</p><p>Woltjen is particularly optimistic about changes that could come about through immigration reform. Woltjen credited U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) with including measures to help unaccompanied children in the so-called Gang of Eight bill. It would allow judges to appoint free legal counsel to unaccompanied minors. But there&rsquo;s no guarantee it will be kept in the final bill.</p><p>As for Cordoba, he says he&rsquo;s lucky to have a lawyer, and to live with his brothers while his immigration case unfolds. But he is still struggling with the memories of how he got to this country. Cordoba stressed the dangers crossing from Mexico into the U.S., but stopped short of describing how he got caught. His attorneys say before Cordoba was detained he was the victim of a crime. Cordoba&rsquo;s trying to forget it, and said to some extent, he regrets coming to the U.S.</p><p>&lsquo;&ldquo;But now that I&rsquo;m here, and I have this opportunity, I want to make the best of it and be able to stay here,&rdquo; he said. Cordoba said he&rsquo;s eager to get out of immigration court limbo and to to start working. Ultimately he hopes to go back to school and pursue a profession where he can help people.</p><p>He said he&rsquo;d like to become a doctor, or an immigration attorney.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="http://www.twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/WBEZOutLoud">@WBEZOutLoud</a>.</em></p><p><em>*Correction: This article originally stated that the Office of Refugee Resettlement falls under the U.S. State Department. It is actually under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.</em></p></p> Tue, 04 Jun 2013 01:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/sharp-rise-young-unaccompanied-illegal-immigrants-tests-us-107511