Tag Archive: Newark Immigration Court

Unaccompanied kids fleeing from violence need more help in New Jersey

Last week at the Texas border Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said, “The message has to be that our border is not open to illegal immigration and we are sending people back … You will be sent back.” In contrast, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees produced a report Children on the Run that included a study “which concluded than 58% of the 404 fleeing children interviewed at the Mexican border were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.” While the U. S. is urging countries to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing violence, it is taking a hypocritical and contrary position within its own borders. Homeland Security refers to these people as aliens and illegal immigrants, and on Wednesday, President Obama said, it was likely that most would be sent back to their countries.

However, Rep. Rush Holt has a different take on the matter. Last week while meeting with NJ immigration advocates including First Friends of NY/NJ, he stated, “They are refugees. That’s how we can start, by using the appropriate language.”

Below are suggestions as to how we can further help these frightened, endangered refugees arriving in New Jersey.  

Unaccompanied kids fleeing from violence to the U.S.: A morning in NJ’s Immigration Court

While comprehensive immigration reform is flailing in the murky waters of midterm congressional elections and Republican intransigence, the humanitarian concern for unaccompanied children escaping from violence in northern Central America and seeking refuge in the U.S. has captured the attention of many. Since October according to Homeland Security there have been 52,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. – double the number from last year.

The kids are generally first sent to detention centers where they are screened and catalogued and then dispersed throughout the country to family members, foster care or other facilities. According to a law signed by President George W. Bush those who come unaccompanied from countries not contiguous to the U.S. such as Central America can not be immediately returned to their land of origin. Instead they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge and an opportunity to seek asylum – a drawn-out procedure with no public defender, a confusing legal system, and slim chances for gaining legal status.

Some of the children end up in New Jersey where there are two immigration courts but only one with a juvenile docket. It is in Newark on the twelfth floor of the Federal Building on Broad Street. I spent a few hours at the court, passed through slow, rigorous security at the entrance, talked with several of the children (I speak Spanish), and at one point was ordered by a judge to appear before him to explain who I was and why I was taking notes. But this is a story about the shy, quiet, and nicely dressed kids appearing before judges who have the authority to deport them back to a tumultuous, dangerous existence.