Philadelphia Immigration Court Overwhelmed By Undocumented Children Cases

The United States Immigration Court, located in the Federal Building at Ninth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is not one of the largest courts in the nation. However, with the recent influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border of Mexico in the United States, many of these children have found themselves in Immigration Courts all across the country, including the City of Brotherly Love.

Many of these children fled their homes in Central America from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico seeking political asylum. They came here seeking refuge due to the extreme poverty they faced, domestic abuse, political unrest or terrible gang violence. For some of these children, these conditions may lead them to a path that will allow to remain in the United States lawfully. For others who were sent here by their parents, they may become eligible for a Lawful Permanent Resident status commonly known as aGreen Card.

In the last year the arrests of unaccompanied and undocumented children crossing the border without a parent or guardian have increased from roughly 14,000 in 2013 to 68,00 in 2014. That is only to October, according to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Once the children are encountered upon entry, they are taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security but normally transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which releases them to sponsors, often family members who are present in the United States, sometimes with lawful status and other times without.

In 2014 from the month of January through the month of August, 513 unaccompanied minors were released to families in Pennsylvania. New Jersey received 2,171 and Delaware 168.

Because these children have a better chance of success in their legal battle if they are represented by an attorney, immigration advocates in the northeast have come together to try to help these children navigate through the federal immigration court system.

Several mayors, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, signed a letter that pledged support to these undocumented children from Central America, who arrived in the United States looking for help. The letter was created byWelcoming America, a Decatur, Georgia based non-profit organization. The director and founder David Lubell, was born and raised in Lower Merion.

The children who wind up in Immigration Court in Philadelphia will most likely encounter Federal Judge Steven Morley, who has been handling the docket for these undocumented minors. In one day he can have over 90 cases on the calendar. This number is simply too high to afford ample opportunity to have their fair time to be heard before the Court. Each case on Judge Morley’s docket receive approximately three to four minutes of his time on the record. In most cases, Judge Morley is adjourning the cases up to five months out, in order for these children to find legal counsel and determine what if any relief from removal or deportation might be available to them.

Advocates for these children are scrambling to find assistance for these children and help them navigate through the legal rhetoric they are faced with. Most of these children have had little to no formal education so it is important that they are not overlooked and pushed through the system without fairly being heard. The good news is while these children reside in Philadelphia or the surrounding area, they are out of the harm’s way they faced in their home country, at least temporarily.

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