Children as young as 12 months are heading to immigration court as they await reunification with their parents, according to The Associated Press.
President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy led to the separation of some 3,000 migrant children from their parents, and now the administration is scrambling to reunite them as a July 26 deadline looms near.
The 1-year-old boy in a green button-up shirt drank milk from a bottle, played with a small purple ball that lit up when it hit the ground and occasionally asked for “agua.”
Then it was the child’s turn for his court appearance before a Phoenix immigration judge, who could hardly contain his unease with the situation during the portion of the hearing where he asks immigrant defendants whether they understand the proceedings.
“I’m embarrassed to ask it, because I don’t know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law,” Judge John W. Richardson told the lawyer representing the 1-year-old boy.
The U.S. immigration court system requires children to go before a judge without their parents, no matter how young, and does not grant them the right to a court-appointed attorney.
According to Kids in Need of Defense, which provides legal representation to such children, 90 percent are deported when they have no access to a lawyer, the AP reported.
As for Johan, the one-year-old Honduran boy, his father was already deported and back in Honduras with the child’s mother.
Richardson said the boy’s case raised red flags over a looming court-ordered deadline to reunite small children with their families. A federal judge in San Diego gave the agency until next Tuesday to reunite kids under 5 with their parents and until July 26 for all others.
Richardson repeatedly told the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney who was acting as the prosecutor that he should make note of the cases involving young children because of the government’s obligation to meet the reunification deadline. The attorney said he wasn’t familiar with that deadline and that a different department within ICE handled such matters.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the attorney was familiar with the injunction but didn’t know the specifics of the timeline requirements off the top of his head “and did not want to misspeak about any timeline commitments without that knowledge.”
Johan was granted a voluntary deportation order so he could be flown to Honduras and reunited with his parents.
A smartly dressed Guatemalan boy who came before the judge held up five fingers when asked for his age. His father also was returned to their home country while the boy remained in the U.S., and his attorney asked for a voluntary deportation order so the family could be reunited.
The family separation issue is especially urgent for the parents of young children who are even more dependent on their mothers and fathers. Studies show that major stress at a very young age can create a lifetime of emotional and even physical problems.