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Morality v. Legality: Immigrant Children In Court Alone

In June, news broke that immigrant children as young as toddlers being forced to appear in deportation courts were being ordered to go through this process alone, acting as their own attorneys at times. This comes at a time where President Donald Trump and his administration are having border authorities separate these children from their families upon crossing the border into the United States, which has prompted a worldwide outcry.

As this all continues to unfold, the rampant debate over building a wall or having open borders is on-going.

These unaccompanied minors being sent to court alone for their deportation proceedings are only some of the 2,300 who have been separated from their parents and other family members for illegally crossing the border. As these ordeals continue for these immigrants, President Trump had a request to allow the long-term detention of the illegal migrant children rejected by a Los Angeles federal judge.

In these courts, the children, some of whom who are as young as 3-years old and majority of which do not speak English, are having to advocate for themselves as a result of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy. Upon being notified of their notices to appear in court, these children are told that they are not entitled to an attorney, but rather are given a list of legal services that might be able to help them.

Going hand in hand with this chaotic situation, these youngsters have faced other traumatic events such as being put into temporary foster care and staying in federal detention facilities amongst the strangers operating those centers.

Shafeka Colasurdo, an advocate at a nonprofit immigrant and refugee services organization called New American Pathways, called the family separation policy being carried out by Border Patrol,

“…absolutely abhorrent when it was going on.” “It was a way to instill fear in those who are fleeing violence in their own countries by creating a sense of dread if they even tried to cross the border because their children would be taken from them, and possibly they would never see them again,” Colasurdo continued.

Source: Josh Denmark

When asked more specifically about these children being brought to court without their parents’ supervision, Colasurdo stated,

“The idea of trying toddlers in a court just goes to show how absolutely ridiculous the state sanctioned policies are, and it makes them appear like a farce, but it’s the only way that this regime can even give them legitimacy, is to try and carry them out, even if that looks as ridiculous as a three-year-old in court.”

With questions constantly being raised regarding the legality of these court hearings of the children, Colasurdo explained, “To my knowledge, it is technically fully legal because immigration courts are civil courts, so an attorney is not necessary for the hearing. It’s the same type of court you might go to for a traffic violation or an unpaid parking ticket. So technically, the legality is not the issue, it’s the ethical and moral dilemma that we are facing. We have to remember that when Jim Crow era laws were in effect, they were legal, but that didn’t make them right.”

Colasurdo drew comparisons from the nation’s current handling of illegal immigrants to past moments too.

“During slavery, children were regularly separated from their families, put in chains, and made to live in despicable conditions. Likewise, we are in an era of mass incarceration of children, maybe not nearly as young, but still children nonetheless, children who are criminalized for regular activities which have a negative effect on their entire future,” she said.

As for what can be done to remedy the situation and stop such events from repeating themselves, Colasurdo said, “I think the best thing people can do is to really organize around these issues. For some people, that looks like going to your Congress and legislation, but for others, it means having mass demonstrations in front of prisons, occupying buildings, and other acts of civil disobedience. I don’t think one is better or worse than the other, but I do think it takes both types to actually see changes.”

While the family separation policy was ended upon the signing of an executive order, tensions remain high and opinions continue to vary on the topic of immigration in the United States.

By: Mohamad Hashash

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