Rose Marie Arce
When "Marta" was 12, she entered the United States illegally, hoping to join her mother, who had left her in Central America years ago to search for work. Three years later she was sitting in immigration detention by herself waiting to be deported back home to her grandmother, who was dying of cancer.
Her case is typical of the 7,211 children who entered the United States illegally in 2008 by themselves, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs the shelters where the children are detained. Children come searching for family members or a way out of poverty with little understanding of the legal ramifications they face.
Marta had something not every child in those circumstances receives, legal representation. A lawyer employed by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a nonprofit legal assistance group, took her case. It made the difference between being deported and getting a shot at a visa.
But not every child will go before a judge with a lawyer. Last year, as many as 50 percent of the children detained went before judges with no lawyer, according to Wendy Young, director of Kids in Need of Defense. She says it could get worse, because the organizations that provide free legal defense for these children are struggling financially and cutting back.
Filed under: 360° Radar
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