Immigrant Infants Ordered to Represent Themselves in Court

More than 70 immigrant children under the age of 1 have been called into court to defend themselves since October, newly released data shows.

“These children, who may be staying with a sponsor or in a foster care arrangement, need frequent touching and bonding with a parent and naps every few hours, and some are of breastfeeding age, medical experts say. They’re unable to speak and still learning when it’s day versus night,” according to Kaiser Health News (KHN), which first reported the information.

The number of children not even a whole year old who have had to appear in court has tripled compared to the previous fiscal year. Since October of 2015, about 1,500 “unaccompanied” children age 3 and under have been required to appear in immigration court. Of those children, about a quarter do not have legal representation.

According to KHN, many of these children are only unaccompanied because they were separated from their families thanks to President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

“For babies, the basics are really important. It’s the holding, the proper feeding, proper nurturing,” Shadi Houshyar, director of early childhood and child welfare initiatives at Families USA, told KHN.

Robert Carey, former head of the Office of Refugee Settlement, said the current situation is partially a “crisis of the creation of the government.”

KHN explained:

In the removal cases, children have no right to an appointed lawyer, but rather to a list of legal aid attorneys that the child’s current caregiver can contact.

And young children rarely know the details of why they fled their home country, especially without a parent present, noted Eileen Blessinger, a Virginia-based immigration lawyer who has been aiding parents.

“Think about it as a parent. You’re not going to tell your child they might be killed, right” she said. “A lot of the kids don’t know.”

About 2,900 children ages 5 and under have been ordered to appear in court since October of 2015. Children in this age range who were separated from their families were ordered to be reunited by July 10th, a goal the government did not meet. Of 103 kids, 57 were reunited with their families.

Some parents were in jail or had already been deported.

Trump signed an executive order allegedly ending family separations unless the adult is considered a danger to the child. But one man said his daughter was taken from him as recently as July 5th.

According to a letter from the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), Mario Perez-Domingo and his 2-year-old daughter were torn apart when trying to enter the country despite Perez-Domingo, 24, having his little girl’s birth certificate. He was apprehended at the border patrol center in McAllen, Texas.

As of July 13th, the pair was still separated.

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