October 22nd, 2009
04:33 PM ET

Detained immigrant children face legal maze in U.S.

Last year, 7,211 children entered the U.S. illegally and alone. But not every child will get legal representation.

Last year, 7,211 children entered the U.S. illegally and alone. But not every child will get legal representation.

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.

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Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Ratna, New York,NY

    Dear Rose,

    At the time of the Vietnam War in the 1980's, Cambodian children were accepted as refugees in the United States. Little did these children know how to integrate within the American society and were shaved off to bad neighborhoods and poverty. At the time these children grow up and commit felonies (even minor), US immigration turned their status to deportees. So my question is: It is not just the legal process to legalize citizenship, but you have to have a good program established for these kids to flourish in education and economically give them the full right to embrace the "American Dream", otherwise you will be stuck with poverty and criminals who will be deported later.

    But if Americans can not take care of their very own children educationwise, culturally wise and econonomically wise, then were will we place Latino immigrant children. The process is pretty stressfull to their little minds.

    October 22, 2009 at 5:49 pm |