By Tatyana Delgado
With over 6,000 unaccompanied children released from juvenile detention facilities to sponsors in Texas from January through August 2014, many legal service providers have shifted into high gear. Over 3,000 unaccompanied children have been released to parents, relatives, or other caretakers living in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston.
In response to recent guidance from EOIR Headquarters, immigration judges in Houston are setting first master calendar hearings for unaccompanied children within 21 days of the date of filing of the Notice to Appear. In many cases, children are receiving two to four week continuances. During this time, children are expected to secure counsel and determine which forms of immigration relief they intend to pursue. In addition, the Houston Asylum office is scheduling asylum interviews for unaccompanied children promptly after receiving asylum applications.
The St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance at Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston is responding to children’s legal needs by offering a wide range of services. Maria Mitchell, the Cabrini Center’s legal co-director and pro bono counsel, has mentored dozens of pro bono attorneys handling cases for children. The Cabrini Center is continuing to expand its pro bono attorney network as it continues to identify children who are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status, asylum, and other forms of immigration relief.
Aimee Maldonado, the supervising attorney for the Cabrini Center’s unaccompanied children program, and a dedicated team of attorneys, staff the detained and non-detained juvenile dockets at the Houston Immigration Court on a regular basis. The legal team conducts Know Your Rights presentations and legal screenings of children detained in juvenile shelters. They also represent children released to sponsors in Houston and surrounding areas, and match pro bono attorneys with children. The legal work is demanding and challenging, but these expert attorneys handle cases with a great deal of professionalism.
In San Antonio, collaboration among nonprofit organizations and pro bono attorneys has helped meet the legal needs of many immigrant children and their families. Juan Castro, the Caritas Legal Services Director at Catholic Charities of San Antonio, and Jonathan Ryan, the Executive Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) spearheaded joint efforts to provide legal services to families who were detained at the Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland. The Lackland facility recently closed, but a new facility, the Karnes County Residential Center opened in Karnes City, Texas. Karnes houses women and their children.
ICE recently announced that a new family detention facility in Dilley, Texas, which will have capacity for 2,400 detainees, is expected to open in December 2014. The devoted staff at Caritas Legal Services and RAICES plan to continue to partner on efforts to serve children and their families in San Antonio and surrounding areas.
CLINIC is continuing to engage in advocacy, providing training, and supporting organizations that are handling cases for unaccompanied children. We encourage CLINIC affiliates to send any questions related to unaccompanied children to firstname.lastname@example.org. CLINIC affiliates may also join the CLINIC unaccompanied children listserv by e-mailing: email@example.com.