Most Unaccompanied Children Could Qualify for Relief

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More than half of the unaccompanied Central American children who are in U.S. custody after crossing the U.S. border could be found eligible for relief by a U.S. immigration judge, according to an assessment by Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). This assessment is particularly timely, as several members of Congress have proposed legislative changes that would effectively speed up deportations of the Central American children by changing reducing the opportunities for screening and immigration court review.

RAICES has provided “Know Your Rights” presentations and legal screenings for the roughly 1,200 unaccompanied children who are in custody of Health and Human Services officials at Lackland Air Force Base. Jonathan Ryan, RAICES’ executive director, writes in letters to President Obama and congressional leaders that in their review of 925 immigrants children’s intake screenings, 63 percent could qualify for forms of relief like asylum, “U visas” for victims of serious crimes, and “T” visas for trafficking victims.

As Ryan explains, the initial screening of unaccompanied children is essential. He said RAICES spends 45 minutes to one hour individually meeting with the children after a presentation about their legal rights, and they often have to do follow-up interviews. “It is often the only opportunity these children will have to articulate their claims, talk with an attorney, and to access the protections that our laws provide,” Ryan writes. “Without this screening, the 63 percent of children who likely qualify for relief might never have been identified.”

Border Patrol agents are the first people children often see after they are apprehended for crossing the border, but many are hesitant to report abuse or tell their full stories in the initial screening by border officials, according to The New York Times.

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