Underage and alone: Texas judges deport more than 80 percent of unaccompanied minors

MGN Online

Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2015 10:00 pm

McALLEN — Immigration lawyer Carlos Garcia recently received a call from the family of a 15-year-old girl who said she had been kidnapped and raped by the man who smuggled her into the country illegally.

Garcia met her she was sitting in a detention center, waiting to see an immigration judge.

“If we wouldn’t have come in contact with her or if some attorney would not have come in contact with her, she could have easily fallen through the cracks,” the McAllen-based lawyer said.

The teen is one of thousands of immigrants without legal status at the mercy of Texas immigration judges who are deporting about eight out of 10 unaccompanied minors.

During fiscal year 2014 nearly 69,000 unaccompanied minors rushed to the U.S.-Mexico border, telling stories of violence and poverty that drove them from their native countries in Central America, according to a February report from the Government Accountability Office.

Nearly half of all unaccompanied minors released from federal custody after illegally crossing the border went to Texas, California and New York, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Most of the crossers surged through the Rio Grande Valley last year, and the majority remained in Texas, just over 7,400 immigrants staying in the state.

U.S. immigration courts remain backlogged, with nearly 500,000 outstanding cases nationwide.

Since 2005, unaccompanied minors summoned before a judge face an 83 percent chance of deportation either by removal order or voluntary departure, according to the Transactional Access Records Clearninghouse, a Syracuse University-based project that tracks data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies.

Between 2005 and June, 4,143 out of 4,965 unaccompanied juveniles who went before Texas immigration judges were deported — a rate three times as high as in California with 1,149 deportations, the second-highest number of unaccompanied minor deportations, according to the TRAC data.

Garcia attributes greater deportation numbers in Texas due to lack of representation in immigration court. Unlike the criminal justice system, federal law does not mandate indigent legal representation for immigration cases.

In Texas, there are more than 2,100 unaccompanied minors without legal representation, according to TRAC. Unlike criminal cases, federal law does not mandate the government to provide a lawyer to indigents in immigration court.

“It is sad but the truth is there are not enough resources to assign each one of these kids an attorney to accompany them before a judge,” Garcia said. “It’s hard for a child to relay to a judge why they merit a favorable decision in their case which would allow them to stay in the country.”

Deportations nationwide have dropped to their lowest level since 1998, according to TRAC. More than half of the cases involved Mexican nationals, but in Texas, most unaccompanied minors came from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Allan Perez, the Guatemalan consul in McAllen, said Thursday his office was unaware of the number of unaccompanied minors being sent back. He has served locally since May 2014.

“At the consulate we have people that can provide any of our citizen’s with legal advice but we have not received any calls from minors that are being deported,” Perez said in Spanish.