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What Happens to Minor Non-Citizens Who Cross the Border Illegally?

The Trump administration has recently come under scrutiny for announcing its new policy toward immigration and control of the U.S.-Mexican border. Officials have cracked down on immigration policy throughout the nation, enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for those who cross the border illegally, which will require them to face criminal charges. This includes offering little to no mercy for parents who unlawfully bring their children into the United States. Perhaps the most controversial issue regarding the enforcement of this policy stems from officials separating parents from their children at the border.

The protocol for dealing with instances like these, as per the new policy announced in May, is to send the parent for prosecution and, ultimately, to an immigration detainment center, if they are found to have crossed the border illegally. By nature, the policy separates children from their parents or legal guardians as families are not kept together while the parent or guardian is taken into custody. The child is then taken to a facility for unaccompanied minors or will be left in the care of a sponsor, who is typically a family member of the child who already resides in the U.S.

According to reports by Senator Jeff Merkley who recently toured the McAllen Border Station, the facilities in which separated children are placed are rumored to have poor, even inhumane, conditions. Recently, senators have confirmed that children are kept in cages, with just a temporary space blanket and basic necessities that are often shared with other children. The government has begun to face criticism for the conditions of these facilities, prompting efforts to take a closer look at the conditions within federal correctional institutions and military bases.

It may take weeks, or even months, for children to be located and reunited with their parents after they have been released from immigration detention centers. In some cases, children may end up in a different state than where their parent or guardian is being held, which could be very far away and difficult for the parent to travel to, upon release. In addition, it may be very difficult to locate a child that has been placed in the care of a sponsor because the sponsor may not respond to calls from federal officials for fear of deportation if they are also a non-citizen. Officials are required to make a phone call to the sponsor to check in with the child, but are not required to appear physically, so a simple change of phone number can make the child impossible to find.

During a recent court case, it was estimated by an official from the Department of Health and Human Services that the federal government had lost track of approximately 1,500 of these children, who were originally placed in facilities or with sponsors. Some of these children were likely separated from their parents at the border. However, many of these children were those who crossed the border unaccompanied by a family member or illegally entered the country with an adult that cannot be confirmed to be that child’s parent or guardian. This is another instance in which officials will place the child in a care facility or try to locate a family member in the U.S. with whom to place the child.

Some view this issue of not keeping track of immigrant children and their families as a relief in that they will not have to constantly worry about the threat of deportation. However, a major concern this issue does bring up is the potential for exploitation and abuse that these unaccounted-for children may be at risk of facing. There is worry that these children could have been recruited into gangs or human trafficking rings.

If you or a loved one is a non-citizen and are concerned about the possibility of deportation, it is imperative that you consult an experienced New York immigration lawyer who can advise you of your legal rights and help you find available pathways to citizenship. The New York immigration lawyers at Bretz & Coven, LLP have years of experience representing clients in complex immigration cases. With two immigration law offices located in New York City and Clark, New Jersey, the firm’s attorneys are available to assist individuals throughout the tri-state area with their immigration matters. For more information or to schedule a consultation with our New York City immigration lawyers, call (212) 267-2555 or fill out our contact form.

Immigration Consequences of Criminal and Fraudulent Conduct
The immigration consequences of criminal or fraudulent conduct can be harsh and often illogical. Even a very minor offense could have a dramatic immigration consequence, including deportation, detention without bond, being denied naturalization, a visa or re-entry into the United States. Likewise, the use of fake or fraudulent documents, aliases, and other misrepresentations can have similar immigration consequences. Kerry Bretz and Bretz & Coven have been counseling non-citizen criminal defendants, as well as their lawyers, for over 20 years. We have a long history of strategizing deportation and removal defenses, as well as applications for waivers, in very complicated cases.

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