The recent influx of unaccompanied children from Central America and other countries has dominated the news. As usual, whenever the topic of immigration arises, a common theme is that immigrants should follow the rules. Indeed, immigrants are often chastised by anti-immigration activists for allegedly not following the rules. Ironically, these same activists who are critical of rule-breaking often urge immigration officials to disregard the rules when it comes to the processing of children for deportation. For example, California residents recently stopped a bus containing juvenile immigrants from Central America from arriving at a Border Patrol facility. Some of the protesters demanded that the immigrants be deported immediately.
So, what are the rules that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must follow when unaccompanied children are apprehended upon their arrival to the United States? The Homeland Security Act of 2002 gave responsibility over the care of unaccompanied children to the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Since that time, unaccompanied children apprehended by DHS have been transferred to the custody of ORR.
To enhance the government’s efforts to combat the trafficking of children, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 (TVPRA) was enacted. This Act signed by President Bush created different rules for the handling of cases for unaccompanied children arriving from foreign contiguous countries (Canada or Mexico) and children arriving from all other countries. The Act allows DHS to quickly return unaccompanied children who are natives or citizens of Canada and Mexico. All other children, however, must be transferred to ORR and placed in a traditional removal proceeding before an Immigration Judge.
Following the rules enacted by Congress, then, requires DHS to transfer unaccompanied children who are not from Canada or Mexico to the care of ORR. Before these children can be removed from the United States, they are entitled to a hearing before an Immigration Judge as a matter of law. A great number of these children have lawful claims to remain in the United States. To call for their immediate deportation or to suggest that DHS simply deport them without due process is to ask that DHS break the rules. These rules, of course, can be changed but neither Congress nor the President have been willing to meaningfully address immigration reform. Until that happens, DHS is obliged to carry out its responsibilities according to the law as it is currently written.
The attorneys and staff at DMCA understand how traumatic it can be when families and children are detained by immigration authorities. Our attorneys specialize in reuniting children with their families and seeking lawful immigration status for those who have been forced to seek refuge in the United States. Call our office today if you or your family is in need of such assistance.