Jun 14, 2014 12:45 AM by Lauren Reimer

Undocumented minors who enter the U.S. alone face long legal process

TUCSON - Children continue to pour into the United States from Mexico and Central America. When they're picked up by Border Patrol, they are sent to a detention center, like the one in Nogales.

Those under 16 years old are eventually transferred to shelters like the ones operated by Southwest Key, including one that will open shortly right here in Tucson.

The legal process that follows can take months, even years, meaning these kids might be here for awhile in legal limbo.

When adults are picked up at the border, they are given the option to take the next bus, or plane, back to their home country. It's called voluntary departure, and many take the offer.

But children are not given this choice without a family member or lawyer present. Each is given a chance to explain why they wanted to come to the U.S.

The government goes through every single case to see if that person has a right to stay, or needs to be deported.

"Some of these minors may qualify for asylum because they have a fear of persecution. They may qualify for some sort of visa status based on being trafficked, it's called a t-visa. Also, if they have family here, they might qualify for a a green card, but it depends on their situation,' saidAttorney Maurice Goldman, who specializes in Immigration Law.

Multiply that by 47,000, the number of minors who have tried to enter the country illegally since October, and you get one very overloaded system.

"And so everyday they're sitting in detention, I think the estimate is like $150 or so per day that our taxpayer dollars are going to help incarcerate these individuals," said Goldman. "Sometime they're in there for months waiting to be interviewed by an asylum officer.

The process of entering the country legally and establishing citizenship Can take even longer.

Yahahira Gastellum was naturalized on Friday. It took her three years.

It can take some ten, even 20. Goldman explains, some people looking to escape dire situations are often unwilling to wait that long, and would rather roll the dice and risk deportation.


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