Refugee Children Coming to Wisconsin Could Wait Years for a Court Date

Jul 30, 2014

The federal government reports placing about 50 so-called "border children" in Wisconsin. Eventually, they'll appear in immigration court.

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz. have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1.
Credit Getty Images

The children traveled to the U.S. from Central America. A judge will determine whether they can stay.

Barbara Graham is director of legal services for Catholic Charities of Milwaukee. She says the children will have three legal options.

“They will either ask for voluntary departure and for unaccompanied minors that means the government will fly them back to their home country. Or, we will apply for something called “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status,” but we would apply for that with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the court would give us time to do that. Or, we would apply for asylum,” Graham says.

“We’d apply for (asylum) based on one of two reasons. Either the child is a victim of domestic violence in his home country, which is really common. Or, we would apply based on a particular social group as someone who is being aggressively pursued for gang membership.”

Graham says many of the unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border claim they are fleeing gang violence in their countries.

“(The gangs) kill people. And people have friends and neighbors and cousins and family members who have died because they didn’t join the gang. The gangs down there act almost like a government. They control territories, they hand out justice. They decide who can go in and out of neighborhoods. The government can’t control them,” she says.

Graham explains how a judge decides whether to grant asylum.

“­­­­There’s a couple things we use as evidence. There’s something called a Country Condition Report put out by the United States Department of State that are usually pretty credible because they are never puffed up. They’re usually pretty conservative. We use expert witnesses that we can find from universities. (The child’s testimony) is really important. If you are honest and you are credible and the judge knows you are telling the truth, that goes an awful long way. If the judge thinks you’re not telling the truth, you might as well just pack up and go home. The judges see a lot of this. They’re really good at assessing a client’s credibility,” Graham says.

She says children who are placed in Milwaukee would have hearings in immigration court in Chicago, where some cases are being scheduled as far out as 2019. While cases are pending, children could be placed with an agency, such as Catholic Charities, with relatives or in long-term foster care.

Graham says children are not released into placements until they have vaccinations and medical screenings and found to have no contagious diseases.