Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Friday appealed to immigration lawyers in South Florida to help represent many of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the border.
“It is a humanitarian crisis and we’re here to try to resolve it in a humanitarian way,” Wenski said during a news conference at the Archdiocese of Miami in Miami Shores.
Wenski’s plea came in response to a recent Department of Justice directive expediting deportation proceedings for unaccompanied children who arrived after May 1.
“Any child who has arrived after May 1 of this year, that case is being fast-tracked,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice.
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While this is happening in immigration courts around the country, Wenski said this became evident in Miami immigration court downtown in the last few days. Wenski said that in Miami, the immigration court’s docket would feature an additional 150 cases dealing with recently-arrived unaccompanied children through September. Many of the children initially held in detention centers at the border are now arriving in South Florida where they have parents and other relatives. Thus their immigration proceedings have been transferred to immigration court here.
“This will deny these children the right to due process,” Wenski added. “It will overwhelm the lawyers who are available to represent them and we need more lawyers to step up to help us in this crisis.”
Archdiocese officials said that lawyers willing to help represent the children in immigration court can call the archdiocese’s Catholic Legal Services of Miami at 305-914-2157 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
An unprecedented surge in unaccompanied children has been flowing across the Mexican border since 2011. More than 50,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have arrived since Oct. 1. Most of the minors say they are fleeing increasing gang violence in their countries.
Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services, blamed the Obama administration for “creating” a crisis in immigration courts simply to show that the federal government is handling the unaccompanied children issue.
“I just want to point out how disappointed I am in the Obama administration,” said McGrorty. “I think this directive comes from very high in the White House. They have created artificially this legal crisis for political show.”
Little suggested that expedited deportation proceedings could result in deportation orders for children who fled deadly gang violence.
“A deportation order is tantamount to a virtual death sentence,” said Little.
Manny Crespo, president-elect of the Cuban American Bar Association, said the expedited procedure was unfair because it put “innocent children in the cross-hairs of conveyor-belt justice.”