Immigrant children caught in legal limbo

Immigrant children caught in legal limbo

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Texas' federal facilities along the Mexican border are overwhelmed with a large number of children from Central America. (Source: CNN) Texas' federal facilities along the Mexican border are overwhelmed with a large number of children from Central America. (Source: CNN)
About 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed into the U.S. since October. (Source: CNN) About 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed into the U.S. since October. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) – President Obama is facing the Texas heat as he travels to the epicenter of the immigration crisis Wednesday afternoon.

The state’s federal facilities along the U.S. Mexico border are overwhelmed with a surge of undocumented children from Central America.

The visit comes as the president is calling on congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency federal aid.

The Department of Homeland Security says that 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed into the U.S. since October. That’s double the amount from the same period a year earlier. Many are caught by border patrol and placed in detention facilities where they ear held, screened and cataloged.

But then what happens?

A 2008 law, passed with bi-partisan support and signed by then President Bush in the final days of his presidency, is complicating the issue.

The law, called the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, prohibits a quick deportation for children from non-bordering countries. It also requires that they receive an opportunity before an immigration judge to determine their future status.

“It could be anywhere from a year to a little more than a year before the kids actually go to an immigration court and see a judge,” Jaime Trevino, an attorney with the Catholic Charities of Dallas said. “They could have several hearings throughout their entire immigration court process. So it really just depends on the child and if they have representation.”

It was intended to prevent child sex trafficking, but the recent flood of migrants has produced unintended consequences.

The Obama Administration says the law is limiting their ability to deal with the crisis, and is asking congress for changes to help expedite the deportation process.

The hearings will determine if the children will qualify for humanitarian relief and be allowed to stay, but according to the White House, most will not, so they will be deported.

But that’s not expected to be easy either. A judge’s deportation order must be carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which have their own priorities on who should be deported.

“Children are going to generally be on the lower end of the spectrum because you know, what's a 5-year-old kid, what kind of crime could he commit in the United States versus somebody drug trafficking or some other undesirable crime," Trevino said.

That means these children could be caught in legal limbo for some time to come.

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