The Trump administration has reportedly ordered at least 70 children under the age of 1 to appear before immigration judges since last October, with some appearing without any legal representation.
Department of Justice data on Wednesday also showed that the number of infants made to appear before immigration judges tripled in 2017 compared to the year before.
Typically, infants crossing the border with someone younger than 18 were considered “unaccompanied” and made to appear in court. Following Donald Trump’s now-defunct zero tolerance policy, children were considered unaccompanied after being separated from their parents.
Representation Lost by the Numbers
About three-fourths of those children had legal representation, while the remainder only had access to a list of legal aid attorneys their caregiver can contact. In some cases, young children appear before judges with little to no knowledge of their situation or where their families are, the report noted.
President Trump signed an executive order last month to end the separation of families at the border, and his administration has been working to reunite affected families. Many children are unaware that they face life-threatening situations in their home country.
Complicating things further, the agencies did not have a system in place to track which child belonged to which adult. Meaning lawyers are often unable to reach their parents to discuss the details of their life and their wishes for the child, which are key aspects in an asylum claim. Government officials are working to reunify kids with their parents by July 26 under a court-ordered deadline, but officials say they are currently unable to identify parents for 70 kids.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said officials provide kids with a list of pro bono legal services, and last year the department sent a guidance to judges on how to make children more comfortable in the courtroom. In addition, children may have a relative, sponsor or guardian in the U.S. attend their proceedings.
Think about it as a parent. You’re not going to tell your child they might be killed, right? A lot of the kids simply don’t know.
The process is a Maze
For children, by law, asylum applications go to the Department of Homeland Security first, even as the Justice Department-run immigration courts consider whether to deport them. There are other visas, like the Special Immigrant Juvenile visa for neglected or abused children, that can send the kids to DHS and state courts. All while the immigration court continues to weigh whether or not to deport them.
Traditionally, many judges have granted the kids’ extensions in court to see their other applications through to completion. The process can take years in some parts of the country where the backlogs are higher.
The Trump administration, though, has started opposing continuances for what they consider outside matters, pushing judges to not grant them.
As more children flood the system as a result of the administration’s family separations, Young fears what could result. She is especially concerned about the administration’s push to repeal laws designed to protect children — “as imperfect as they are” — over what officials say are the “loopholes” they create in the system that attract immigrants to come into the US illegally.