Big Change In Immigration Court Decisions For Children Under Obama

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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New data obtained from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows unaccompanied child immigrants’ chances of being allowed to stay in the U.S. have reached all-time highs during the Obama administration.

This holds true for both unaccompanied children who have attorneys, as well as those who do not, according to a report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

For all immigration court rulings involving unaccompanied children through June 30, 66 percent of unaccompanied children have been allowed to stay in the U.S. Twelve percent were ordered removed, while another 22 percent were allowed to voluntarily depart.

That is a big change from 2009, when only 45 percent of unaccompanied children with legal representation were allowed to stay in the country after apprehension. Twenty-three percent were ordered removed in 2009, while 32 percent were allowed voluntary departure.

While removals and voluntary departures have the same temporary effect, removals are harsher because they place prohibitions against future attempts at re-entry.

In its report, TRAC points out that unaccompanied children represented by attorneys have a better shot at staying in the United States. A number of non-profits offer pro bono services to some unaccompanied children. In a $3.7 billion proposal submitted to Congress, Obama asked for $18 million to provide legal services to unaccompanied children and mothers with children.

Regardless, those without attorneys have faced increasingly better odds under Obama’s tenure as well, according to TRAC’s report.

So far in 2014, 42 percent of unaccompanied children who were not represented by an attorney were allowed to stay in the U.S. Three percent were ordered removed, and another 55 percent were granted voluntary departure.

In contrast, in 2009, only seven percent of unaccompanied children were allowed to stay in the U.S. Twenty-four percent were awarded voluntary departure; 69 percent were issued removal orders.

“Examining cases filed during the last 21 months (FY 2013 through June 30, 2014) for which outcomes have been reached, a greater proportion of the children have been allowed to remain in this country, and a smaller percentage were ordered deported, relative to earlier cohorts of children,” TRAC notes in its report. “This was true both for those who were represented as well as those who were not.”

TRAC notes that the data it analyzed does not include unaccompanied children who have been given refugee status. It only analyzes determinations made by a judge.

TRAC’s data does not yet reflect results from the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants who have been apprehended at the southern U.S. border this year. So far, at least 57,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 parents with children — most of whom are from Central America — have been apprehended.

The border crisis has stirred debate over whether the surge is due to the perception among Central Americans that Obama’s immigration are lenient or whether high rates of crime and poverty in the immigrants’ home countries is pushing them here.

Many have argued the former, citing the Obama administration’s 2011 directive, which ordered Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to limit immigration arrests only to those illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes. In addition, Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. This granted amnesty to people meeting certain criteria who arrived in the U.S. illegally while they were children. 

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