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How will immigration courts handle influx of child migrant cases?

In our previous post, we discussed how the influx of youth migrants here in the New York City area has both immigrant service providers and advocacy groups scrambling to provide the necessary services, and how a city task force has already been formed to help tackle this important issue.

While city and state officials continue to look for practical solutions to assist these young people, the majority of whom traveled all alone from Central America to escape violence, federal officials are also trying to find ways to manage the situation and maximize already limited resources.

In fact, it's not just the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services that are struggling with the sheer number of youth migrants, anticipated to hit over 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year, but the federal immigration courts as well.

Indeed, the Transactional Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University determined that by the end of June, the case backlog at the 59 immigration courts administered by 243 judges had reached an unbelievable 375,503 cases with an average wait time of roughly a year-and-a-half.

Experts say that the deportation cases of the youth migrants will likely only push the backlog and the wait times higher.

In order to combat this problem, the White House has requested that Congress allocate $3.7 billion in emergency funding, $45 million of which would go toward providing legal representation for the children and new immigration judges. Furthermore, the Justice Department has indicated that more judges will be sent to the border to hear deportation cases.

Immigration advocates are already expressing concern, however, arguing that this move to hasten deportations will result in even more of the youth migrants going without much-needed legal representation, and ultimately being sent home to a dangerous environment despite the fact that they likely would have otherwise qualified for some sort of relief and didn't comprehend the nature of the proceedings.

"(The defendant) could tell the truth, have no fear in telling the truth, and still lose and get deported," said one attorney. "How can you defend yourself when you don't even know what the rules are?"

It is worth noting that the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit against the federal government earlier this month over its failure to provide the youth migrants with adequate legal representation.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this lawsuit -- especially given that deportation cases are considered civil matters to which the right to representation doesn't necessarily extend -- and whether the federal government softens its stance over the coming weeks.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about important immigration law issues, including deportation, family immigration and worker visas.

Source: USA Today, "Immigration courts bracing for influx of youth migrants," Ricky Jervis, July 20, 2014  

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