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October 04, 2006

In the Immigration Debate, Children Deserve Better!

Just in from AILA, posted Sep. 27, 2006;

Immigration has moved to the forefront of national debate. Sharp divisions have emerged on the subject as Congress deals with various pieces of legislation directly or indirectly related to immigration. Yet given the immense coverage and expansive debate, the one aspect of the immigration issue that is often overlooked is what happens to the children.

Every day unaccompanied immigrant children enter the United States. America for them still represents the land of opportunity - sometimes it is economic opportunity, sometimes it is the opportunity for true safety, and often it is both. Many young ones travel here to escape abusive or other unsafe conditions. They weather the harshest elements to get here. Sometimes they fall victim to predatory traffickers who victimize and exploit them. And they go through all of this with a traumatic sense of separation from home and family. When they arrive, the children have no way of knowing what lies ahead for them, but they have hope - hope that the place they have come to is far better than the place they have come from.

Unfortunately these hopes are not fulfilled for many of the unaccompanied children who enter the United States. More than one third of the youth, once detained, are held in the same detention centers that house juvenile criminals and treated likewise as criminals. Yet some of the federal agencies that are responsible for the children's care neglect to keep current records or share information on these unaccompanied immigrant children who are trying to navigate through court proceedings without sufficient guidance or representation.

For too many the detention period is indefinite. Others eventually are linked with counsel or placed in foster care, although the conditions are not always sensitive to the child's special circumstances. The bottom line is that where unaccompanied immigrant children are concerned, the system is riddled with deficiencies and the children's best interests remain largely ignored.

The government needs to ensure that the children's best interests are considered from the very first point of contact. Unaccompanied immigrant children deserve to be treated with dignity, and must have their basic human rights respected. This is yet another reason why Congress and the Administration need to work out a comprehensive immigration reform. Piecemeal policies do not work. In the past these attempts that mainly focus on enforcement measures have failed - they failed to resolve the underlying issues that continue to drive immigration, failed to benefit either side of the fence, and most importantly they failed to create better conditions for the children who still arrive with the hope of knowing the American Dream.

Posted by VisaLawyer at October 4, 2006 08:43 AM

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