Immigration Court: Central Americans making their plea to stay
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 03:42:41 GMT —
The number of juvenile cases filed with immigration court in Harlingen has more than tripled in just three years TM time.
The majority are transferring their cases out of the Valley to other cities across the United States.
So far figures show they're attending court and they're pleading their cases to stay.
San Juanita Campos is no stranger to the U.S. Immigration court in Harlingen.
The Weslaco-based immigration attorney has clients in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout the Lone Star state.
Her clients from Central America told a common story.
"There is violence you know. We've seen it. There is a threat of being killed, being tortured. Being raped if they are sent back."
The number of adult cases filed with immigration court in Harlingen has remained steady.
But with the recent influx of women and children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the number of juvenile cases filed with immigration court has tripled in just three years TM time.
Harlingen had about 1,800 cases in fiscal year 2010.
But that grew to more than 6,500 in fiscal year 2013.
So far from October through March there have already been more than 4,000 juvenile cases file pacing to break another record.
"They need to be processed properly. They need to be labeled properly. You know, as the refugees that are coming into this country and follow that protocol.
Action 4 News sat inside immigration court for recent round of juvenile hearings.
Cameras are not allowed inside, but out of a lengthy docket only one child was actually in court.
The rest of the cases were postponed or transferred to courts in faraway places such as California, Boston, New Orleans and even New York.
There are several options to keep these children in the United States.
Among them, getting a family member with legal status in the U.S. to petition on their behalf, children who are victims of crime can also get a visa to stay while others can try to apply for asylum.
They need to see an attorney because there might be reliefs that people don't know about but they might be able to get help through an attorney."
We took a look at the numbers.
Out of the 58 immigration courts across the United States, figures show that New York City consistently has the highest number of cases.
But Harlingen has the highest number of requests for change of venue.
We also learned that where a case is heard can also makes a difference.
Judges in New York City lead the number of cases where asylum is granted.
Harlingen ranks in a lower tier.
Figures also show immigrants from places such as China, Ethiopia and Nepal are more likely to be granted asylum while immigrants from Central America fall far behind.
Although there are no court-appointed attorneys for immigration court, Campos said legal representation is very important.
Figures show that only less than three percent of juveniles with cases in Harlingen failed to appear in court in fiscal year 2013.
Campos said they are fighting to stay in the United States.
She said immigration court judges literally have the lives of her clients in their hands.
"I've had a couple of cases where they were sent back because there was a decision made that there was no basis for fear and I haven't heard from them."
Even before the current influx immigration courts across the United States already had a notorious backlog with only 250 judges, and three of them in Harlingen.
Cases can take months or even years.
Figures we obtained show that more than 350,000 cases remain pending nationwide from fiscal year 2013 alone.