More than half of the unaccompanied Central American children who are in U.S. custody after crossing the U.S. border or surrendering to border agents could be found eligible for relief by a U.S. immigration judge, according to an assessment by Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). This assessment is particularly timely as several members of Congress have proposed legislative changes that would effectively quicken the deportation of the Central American children by changing or reducing their opportunities for screening and immigration court review.
RAICES has provided “Know Your Rights” presentations and legal screenings for the roughly 1,200 unaccompanied children who are in custody of Health and Human Services officials at Lackland Air Force Base. According to Jonathan Ryan, RAICES’ executive director, the group’s review of 925 immigrants children’s intake screenings found that 63 percent could qualify for forms of relief like asylum, U visas for victims of US-based crimes, and T visas for trafficking victims.
Ryan explains the initial screening of unaccompanied children is essential. He said RAICES spends 45 minutes to one hour individually meeting with the children after a presentation about their legal rights, and they often have to do follow-up interviews. “It is often the only opportunity these children will have to articulate their claims, talk with an attorney, and to access the protections that our laws provide,” Ryan writes. “Without this screening, the 63 percent of children who likely qualify for relief might never have been identified.”