The way it is now: Migrant children, most escaping violence and abject poverty in Central America, are apprehended at the border by immigration officials who process their cases before sending them to another federal agency for a health screening to make sure they aren’t carrying communicable diseases. Because the stream of 66,000 children coming across the border created a funnel effect on processing facilities designed to hold between 6,000 and 8,000 in Texas, children are sent to shelters or released to family members around the country to await their deportation hearings where immigration judges decide their fate. When children attend court hearings, they are often rushed through a “rocket docket,” where judges could see dozens at a time in a process that prioritizes speed over accuracy in assessing the viability of these kids’ claims for protection. Many do not realize that they can attend school or receive healthcare while they wait, generally months after they have been released with notices to appear, to see a judge. That wait is in part due to a current backlog of 408,037 immigration cases which continues to grow.
The way it may soon be in New York City: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an initiative on Tuesday to bring health and education representatives to the city’s 1,350 unaccompanied minors at the courthouses where immigration judges whether they can stay in the country or be deported.
“Connecting these vulnerable children to educational, health and social services is vital to helping our families and communities gain stability,” de Blasio stated in a press release. “These children have come here because they have families or sponsors in New York City, and it is our responsibility to assist them. States and municipalities must do all they can to help their immigrant communities — and we hope New York City’s response helps model a more humanitarian approach at these dockets to provide these children with stability and safety.”
Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs stated, “whereas in other jurisdictions, these special dockets for unaccompanied children have become a rapid deportation pipeline, in New York we are taking a different approach and providing critical support services for the children, alongside legal services providers who are doing heroic work to ensure these children have high-quality legal counsel.”
The program will be “covered under existing agency functions and budgets” and provides representatives to help with “school enrollment and educational support, free or sliding-scale health care at public hospitals and clinics, state-funded Child Health Plus health insurance, and family counseling services.”
The city’s commitment to provide education and health care services could help children deal with the traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety that comes from fleeing their home countries. In his work with migrant children in the Los Angeles School District, therapist John Durall told a local NPR affiliate that migrant children can be haunted by “intrusive thoughts” that “can affect relationships in the future, it can affect work, it can affect if you go into higher education or not… In some ways, kids can turn to drugs or other violence. Sometimes there are suicidal thoughts, or there could be attempts.”