The 2014 Humanitarian Crisis at Our Border

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“Children’s lives are at stake.” These poignant words were written by Jeanne Atkinson; CLINIC’s Executive Director, in an article posted to Roll Call last month, and they could not be more accurate. In 2014, our nation witnessed an unprecedented increase in the immigration of unaccompanied migrant children and families fleeing persecution in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. On July 7, 2015, a hearing was held by the U.S. Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reviewing the Government’s response to this Humanitarian Crisis of 2014. Based on the findings in this hearing and my experience as an intern at CLINIC, I am moved by the desperate need for legal support identified as a barrier to justice for Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States.

Juan P. Osuna, the Director of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) suggested that “the 101% backlog increase over the past five years is in part due to budget cuts, which left the agency unable to hire immigration judges to replace immigration judges that left the agency, and unable to hire new positions to maintain its adjudicatory capacity.” Due to the budget cuts, lack of judges, and jammed detention centers, the wait for an immigration legal hearing is unbearably lengthy. Not only are the limited number of judges available for court hearings an obstacle to justice, but unaccompanied children in immigration court are not appointed government funded counsel. “EOIR recognizes that the presence of a representative can increase immigration court efficiencies for respondents of all ages,” Osuna continued, “including resolving those cases in which an individual should be found removable.” The consideration that immigration judges encourage the use of pro bono resources whenever a child respondent is represented was a primary emphasis of the testimony.

Throughout the hearing, I could not help but think of CLINIC’s collaboration with CARA, and the pro bono work on the ground at the Texas family detention centers.  An initiative of CLINIC, the American Immigration Counsel, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the CARA Project is building pro bono capacity at the South Texas Family Residential Center. Thanks to CARA volunteers, more immigrant mothers and children have access to much needed legal representation.   

After attending the U.S. Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on the 2014 humanitarian crisis at the border, I realize more than ever that immigration is complex, complicated, and for some, unjust. Just as EOIR acknowledges the importance of representation for refugee children families, it is our shared responsibility to acknowledge the urgent need at hand and to ensure that these vulnerable groups have access to justice.

To learn more about the CARA Pro Bono Project visit:  https://cliniclegal.org/CARA

Source: Catholic Charities