After delaying a report on the number of illegal border crossings until after the election, the Obama administration has finally disclosed exactly how many unaccompanied alien children and families with children surged across the border over the past year.
Fiscal year 2014 ended on Sept. 30, and by Oct. 10 the numbers were posted on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. But they were taken down five hours later, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The figures reappeared a few days after last week’s election, showing the number of unaccompanied alien children, or UAC, apprehended at the Southern border climbed by 77 percent over the previous year. Anyone 17 or under is classified as a child.
Families with children, which most often includes a single mother with one or more kids, climbed by 361 percent over the prior year.
Now that all these children are here – nearly 70,000 of them by themselves and thousands more with a parent – they must be housed, fed, provided health care, public education, transportation and special help with language and cultural barriers, all at taxpayer expense.
Lawyers for free?
But there is one other critical service they’re not entitled to under U.S. law as asylum seekers: a court-appointed lawyer to argue their case before an immigration judge who will decide if they get to stay in the country.
Not to worry. Lobbyists for various government contractors are already pressuring Congress to approve funds for free immigration lawyers for the children.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is just one such contractor, which gets paid by the federal government to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It sent out an action alert to its supporters last week asking them to call or write Congress and put in a word for court-appointed lawyers for the UACs.
Central American children “must be allowed to seek asylum in the United States,” the HIAS website states.
“Under U.S. law, these children are not eligible for court-appointed lawyers. Many children must navigate the complex immigration system alone and must represent themselves in court, and many are jailed while doing so,” according to HIAS. “This is unacceptable and un-American.”
When Congress returns to Washington on Thursday, it must vote to fund the government for the current fiscal year.
“Decisions will be made about funding immigration judges and lawyers, detention facilities, and whether or not to keep important protections in place for children seeking asylum,” according to the HIAS action alert. “Join us in urging Congress to ensure that children and others who are running for their lives are given a fair chance to seek asylum in the United States.”
HIAS also provides a form letter on its website for supporters to send to members of Congress. It reads in part:
Most of the unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. have fled violence, sexual abuse, forced gang recruitment, and other forms of exploitation and should be eligible for asylum or other relief in the U.S.
As a global humanitarian leader, the United States must respect the rights of those who seek asylum. However, under U.S. law, asylum seekers – including children – are not eligible for court appointed lawyers. This means that many children must navigate the complex immigration system alone and must represent themselves in court, and many are jailed while doing so.
As you consider the bill to fund the government for the current fiscal year, I urge you to ensure that there is sufficient funding for immigration courts to process cases efficiently and for lawyers to represent all children seeking asylum. I urge you to fund alternatives to detention rather than facilities that will jail those who seek safety in the United States. Finally, I urge you to keep in place important existing legal protections for children seeking asylum.
Throughout our history, America has been defined by our generosity toward those who seek a safe haven from violence, oppression, and persecution. I urge you to show leadership in ensuring that children and others who are running for their lives are given a fair chance to seek safe haven in the United States.
Written by LEO HOHMANN
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