Woltjen: Unaccompanied Immigrant Children are Most Vulnerable
With a suddenness that has caught even the most seasoned unaware, waves of children from Central America are crossing the border. Most of them are on their own., without their parents, so many that the President has declared it an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
Sixty thousand children are expected to cross into the U.S. this year, most of them from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. (For some perspective, from 2006 to 2011 an estimated 8,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border each year).
These children – many of whom are younger than 13, some as young as 4 and 5 years old -- are taken into immigration custody and then transferred to secure facilities around the country. The shelters are filled to capacity, so in recent weeks the government has started using military bases.
Each child will be charged with breaking the law and placed in deportation proceedings. They’ll be required to go before an immigration judge, to face a government attorney in a formal courtroom.
But many if not most won’t have an attorney to speak on their behalf. They will be treated like adults, unlike in our state courts where children’s cases are handled separately and where there is a standard called "best interests" of the child.