Posted Jul 31, 2014 08:53 pm CDT
In response to the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border, a delegation of ABA leaders visited detained immigrant minors in San Antonio this week.
The group, which included ABA President James Silkenat and President-Elect William Hubbard, visited an emergency shelter for minors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on July 29. On July 30, they visited immigration court in San Antonio.
In response to the visit, Silkenat issued a statement Thursday calling on the United States to address the situation “without compromising our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable among us, by adhering to the fundamental principles of justice and due process in which this country’s legal system is rooted.”
He reiterated the ABA’s support for providing children with legal representation and for adequate funding for immigration courts, and opposed changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008. The TVPRA currently requires removal hearings for immigrant minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Some elected leaders have called to deport them after only a brief screening.
The visit was organized by the ABA’s Commission on Immigration, whose leadership and staff were also on the trip. In a July 26 statement (PDF) on the commission’s website, Director Meredith Linsky said the commission hoped to learn from the trip how it could better provide legal help to the detained children and teens.
Currently, the commission’s South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project is one of several organizations offering pro bono help to children and teens facing removal. There are no public defenders in immigration court, although a recent lawsuit pending in Seattle district court argues that minors facing removal should have court-appointed attorneys.
The detainees are part of a surge of children and teens, largely from Central America, arriving at the southwest U.S. border. A recent Customs and Border Patrol report (PDF) said that from October 2013 through June, the agency had apprehended 57,525 unaccompanied minors on the southwest border; the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees put that number at 4,059 in fiscal year 2011. This has strained federal resources—leading to allegations that the minors are being held in unsafe, unsanitary conditions—and become a divisive political issue.
The ABA has been active on this issue. On June 11, Silkenat issued a statement calling for legal representation for the detained minors. On June 25, he submitted a similar and more detailed statement (PDF) to the House Judiciary Committee.