By Tania Karas
New York Law Journal
Alberth, a shy 10-year-old who made his way alone from his native El Salvador to the United States, appeared last week in a tiny Manhattan courtroom thousands of miles from his homeland.
Apprehended at the southwestern border, the dark-haired, freckled boy was sent to New York to be reunited with his mother. Alberth was one of 36 children appearing at Immigration Court as part of a “rocket docket” to expedite deportations of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have entered the United States illegally in the past year.
Immigration Judge Virna Wright asked Alberth through a Spanish-language interpreter whether he was enrolled to start school. And was he excited?
Alberth only nodded.
Wright then turned to the boy’s mother, who was seated beside him, and asked if they had an attorney.
‘Not yet,’ she said…
The Door, along with four other legal services providers—the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School and the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association—has volunteered daily since Aug. 13 to guide the influx of children, along with their adult sponsors, through their first court appearances…
Volunteer lawyers said many of the children have suffered domestic abuse, gang violence, abject poverty and human trafficking in their native countries.
At least 4,200 have been sent to New York since January, according to ORR data. More than half are in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Those without family are sent to shelters, such as The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and Lincoln Hall Boys’ Haven in Somers.
Rocket docket sessions start at 9 a.m. with a “Know Your Rights” presentation in Spanish by Elvis Garcia Callejas, a case manager for Catholic Charities’ unaccompanied minors program.
Children and their sponsors fill the court’s 12th floor pro bono room. Some of the boys sport suits and ties, and some girls wear flowered dresses. A few teenage girls hold babies in their laps. They seek legal status for themselves and their own children.
Everyone clutches folders with their names and “alien number” scrawled across the front.
Adults take notes as Garcia Callejas writes a list of “los remedios legales” on a whiteboard. Based on their situations, the children may qualify for special immigrant juvenile status, asylum or visas for victims of serious crimes or trafficking.
‘It’s very important to come to court. Because if you don’t, the judge can order your deportation,’Garcia Callejas told his audience last week…
Catholic Charities recently received a “substantial” grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to hire attorneys, paralegals and support staff, said Mario Russell, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee Services division. Catholic Charities focuses on children living in or just released from temporary shelters.
With the new hires, it expects to handle 300 to 600 such cases and host “Know Your Rights” trainings at 16 shelters in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
“Our plan is to take as many of these as we can,” Russell said. “Specifically we’re looking to partner with nonprofits who have worked on these issues. We expect each case to take 12 to 36 months.”