When record numbers of child refugees began showing up without parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border a few years back, Santa Clara County stepped in to help. The Board of Supervisors spearheaded a coalition and set aside $405,000 to house about 160 unaccompanied minors and represent them in immigration court.
Under President Trump, however, local officials say the need for legal services has become even more urgent. Particularly in light of an initiative by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest adult guardians suspected of smuggling their children across the border.
On Tuesday, county supervisors will consider allocating an additional $405,000 to serve more than 170 children and families. The funding would match state and private grants to support four lawyers at five agencies, starting with screening by the Bar Association of San Francisco at the San Francisco Immigration Court.
According to a report by Child Trends, a research group, children make up the largest proportion of refugees entering the U.S. In 2015, more than half of all refugees were younger than 18 and the majority of them fled violence, poverty and war in their home countries.
In 2014, more than 57,000 Central American women and children crossed the southern border into the U.S.—nearly a six-fold increase from past years.
“This surge of children has resulted in an increasingly overburdened immigration court system, with children of all ages appearing in the immigration courts with no legal representation,” according to a memo from the office of County Executive Jeff Smith.
In 2014, some 160 unaccompanied minors were placed in the South Bay with a sponsor relative or family friend, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Those fleeing abuse or neglect by a parent qualified for relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which requires a state court to issue a custody order. Once the court makes findings related to abuse experienced in the child’s native country, the minor must then petition the federal government for the special status.
If the feds approve special immigration status, the child can avoid deportation and begin the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident. But in order for them to have a fighting chance, county officials stated, they need legal representation in court.
“Although thousands of children arriving in the United States are unaccompanied, several thousand new arrivals are also adults with children, frequently mothers and children,” Smith’s office wrote in the memo to county supervisors. “Similarly, those parents and children are facing the same accelerated removal proceedings in immigration court, and those children are also frequently eligible for a form of immigration relief based on their experiences in their home country.”
The family cases tend to be more complicated, according to the county, because attorneys are needed for both the parents and children. Further, the memo continued, the children on the family dockets skew younger than those on the unaccompanied minor dockets and may qualify for other immigration remedies.
If supervisors agree to extend the contracts to help the child refugees, another $68,000 would go to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, $108,000 to the Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, $68,000 to the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center at Santa Clara University, $108,000 to the Step Forward Foundation and $35,000 to the Bar Association of San Francisco.
- To expand jail mental health services from 16 hours a day to 24-7, the county will consider upping a contract with Traditions Psychology Group from $9.5 million to nearly $22 million.
- The county will consider increasing a contract with Santa Clara University by $337,420 to help more human trafficking victims. The allocation would bring the contract total to about $1.8 million and provide case management and legal services for up to 80 more human trafficking survivors.
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9:30am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001