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Immigration 101: Thousands of immigrant minors arrive in US seeking asylum

Beyond the risks that are entailed in completing the journey to “the North,” thousands of children and minors (the majority of whom are of El Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran origin) come to this country everyday seeking help. Many are looking for their parents, who are already living in the United States.

The statistics are alarming: in 2011, US Border Patrol detained 6,800 undocumented children. In 2012, that number rose to 13,000. The number of detained minors in 2013 nearly doubled to 24,000. Currently, most projections estimate that at least 60,000 children will be detained at the southwest border this year and projections for 2015 exceed 100,000.

The Obama administration recently addressed the issue, calling the humanitarian crisis “urgent.” Also Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, has acknowledged that the number of girls and immigrant minors under 13 years old attempting to cross the border on foot is increasing.

Freddy recuerda el viaje que hizo solo desde Guatemala hasta la frontera de los EEUU, en una conferencia de prensa en San Francisco, el 15 de julio. Freddy, uno de los miles de menores de edad que ha intentado el viaje, se reunió con su madre. Freddy recalls the journey he made alone from Guatemala to the U.S. border at a press conference in San Francisco, July 15. Freddy, who is one of thousands of minors who have attempted the journey, was reunited with his mother. Photo Dhoryan Rizo
Freddy recalls the journey he made alone from Guatemala to the U.S. border at a press conference in San Francisco, July 15. Freddy, who is one of thousands of minors who have attempted the journey, was reunited with his mother. Photo Dhoryan Rizo

These children, after being detained, are then sent to a refugee center until authorities can locate their parents and/or relatives, who can then assume custody. Once in the United States, these young immigrants are summoned to appear in immigration court and face charges of deportation, which could eventually force them back to their countries of origin.

Northern California is home to many of these children and young people, and as a specialist in immigration law, I witness the everyday difficulties involved in helping these “new” immigrants and their families. In many of these cases, applying for asylum is the easiest way to avoid deportation, because most of these youths fear returning to their countries. The reasons are several: the widespread violence of the societies from which they come, mistreatment by their parents (or guardians), and being forcefully recruited by gangs and/or drug cartels.

This humanitarian crisis is one of the many problems facing our immigration system, and it is likely that the situation will continue to deteriorate as the social problems continue to plague Latin America. From here in the United States, the only things within our reach are working to defend the rights of these young immigrants who have no safe home to which they can return, and hoping that immigration reform will give us additional tools to accomplish this goal.

Wilson Purves is a California licensed immigration attorney and legal advisor for the Mexican Consulate of San Francisco.

Story by: Wilson Purves