What happens to children apprehended at the border?

Posted: Jun 20, 2018 6:59 PM Updated:

Immigration attorneys and experts tracking the apprehensions at the border said there is a low likelihood that migrant children separated from their families will end up staying in the United States.

Fort Myers immigration attorney Pablo Hurtado said that some of the kids will likely try, and fail, to navigate the asylum process alone.

"It’s very difficult to imagine a situation where a 10-year-old is able to competently share their story to be able to meet the elements of a credible fear interview," Hurtado said.

Asylum cases require a person to prove they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, class or political opinion. Hurtado said asking children to make that case puts them in a difficult situation.

"It’s impossible," Hurtado said. "I’m giving the example of a 10-year-old but they could be even younger, under 5 years old."

Determining the total number of asylum cases is rather simple but finding out how many are granted for people apprehended at the border is more difficult.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tracks asylum cases with the most recent data coming from fiscal year 2016. Roughly 101,400 asylum cases were heard in FY 2016 and 20,455 of those claims were granted. According to USCIS, roughly 22 percent of those cases were from China so those numbers alone don't tell the story at the border.

In FY 2016 6,530 asylum applications were granted from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. In that same time frame, 408,870 immigrants were apprehended at the southwest border by Customs and Border Protection.

In FY 2016 for every 100 apprehensions at the southwest border, roughly 1.5 people from south of the Mexican border are granted asylum.

This number doesn't take into account the 318,000 asylum cases that are backed up in the system right now nor the people who apply for asylum by surrendering at a port of entry at the border.

"By and large there are many (immigrants) that are not going to meet the element but there’s always always a certain percentage that have real asylum claims that should have the opportunity to present those," Hurtado said.

But Hurtado said these determinations are not made quickly and immigrants are not guaranteed an attorney in the proceedings.

"There’s no guardian ad litem type system where there’s someone speaking on their behalf so we don’t have those processes in place in immigration court to effectively defend these kids," Hurtado said.

In the meantime, kids are sent to shelters like the one re-opened in Homestead where roughly 1,000 children, 94 of them separated from their parents, are being held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Hurtado said sometimes those children are placed with relatives or family friends nearby that can take them to immigration court proceedings.

But the process of reuniting children separated from their families is a different challenge.

"This is all new territory. How is ICE going to handle this long-term?" Hurtado asked.

Hurtado mentioned one of his cases from before the zero-tolerance policy where a 3-year-old was sent to a facility in New York while her parents were in Florida. He said it took several months to reunite them.

NBC 2 reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for housing and sheltering immigrant youth separated from their families. We did not receive a response.

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