Jul 4, 2014 8:22 PM by Lupita Murillo and Michel Marizco
The Homeland Security Department has been sending some of the detained Central American children back to their home countries.
But for those left here, a long hearing process is barely beginning. And that's going to affect an already overwhelmed immigration judicial system.
"This could amount to a substantial delay for other asylum seekers," said Rachel Wilson, an immigration attorney in Tucson. Wilson has litigated asylum cases in Tucson that have taken more than five years. She laid out some of the legal options awaiting the children left in custody.
After the child is detained, agents have to determine if the child is unaccompanied. This can take days. Then they're transferred to a shelter like the Southwest Key facility that opened in Tucson last month. Then the children can apply to stay in the United States. Some will seek a special immigrant juvenile status. Others will enter the asylum process.
"It's unclear how many of them will qualify for asylum. We don't have that much information - or it hasn't been released to the public - about what kinds of situations these children are fleeing so it's hard to say how many will qualify for asylum but they will all definitely have the ability to apply for asylum," Wilson said.
That can run from 4 months to cases like some of Wilson's clients, more than five years.
"If they turn 18 while the process is still pending, then they'll be released from custody and it's ... Good luck. You're on your own," she said.
Even the immigration court is overwhelmed. Syracuse University's immigration database shows 370,000 cases wending their way through the immigration court at the moment. Pres. Obama is trying to circumvent a backflow by creating an exception that would allow Border Patrol agents to make deportation decisions on unaccompanied minors themselves, effectively fast-tracking deportations.
Some immigrants like Yocari Castillo have waited years for the legal permission to build a home in the U.S. Castillo immigrated from Guatemala in the late 1990s, fleeing poverty and a dangerous political climate that threatened to destabilize the country following the end of the Guatemala Civil War in 1996. But it was only with the help of the University of Arizona's Immigration Law Clinic that she was successfully able to earn a visa that will eventually lead to permanent residence in another four years.
"Probably 2017, 2018. So it's still going on. It's been pretty hard and it's been a long wait," Castillo said.
"We keep fighting our case, you know, we keep fighting for it because we didn't give up. But yes it is very frustrating you have that fear that at any time yes, you have to go back with no future because it's like you start all over from over there and you don't know how it's going to be. So it's very frustrating."
Adding untold thousands more cases to that asylum backlog will make waits like hers even longer.