Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

We need a fair immigration court system for children who come here alone.

By meerna Jul11,2024
We need a fair immigration court system for children who come here alone.

Safety should not be a politically divisive issue. Every child should have a fair chance to seek U.S. protection in court.

In 1961, my parents made the difficult decision to leave Cuba, but they could not obtain permission from the communist government to allow my entire family to leave. Instead, my brother and I were sent to the United States under a secret agreement between the Catholic Church and the State Department. We were eventually assigned to a foster family in Los Angeles. I was ten years old, and although my family eventually reunited (many families were not so fortunate), my time away from my parents left a lasting mark on me.

My concerns about the safety and well-being of immigrant children arriving alone in the United States in search of safety prompted me to join the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Leadership Council. I recently visited an immigration court in Houston with other Leadership Council members to understand firsthand what it means to be a child in today’s immigration system. The experience immediately transported me back to the fear, confusion, and longing of my 10-year-old self. I quickly realized that the process, so many years later, remains difficult, but is exacerbated by laws and procedures that fail to recognize the unique needs of children.

The courtroom was full of families whose children were sleeping, playing, or grumbling during the long and arduous hearings. The judge we observed was friendly to children, but friendliness alone cannot compensate for the lack of a child-friendly system. Children who did not speak English had difficulty understanding the judge’s questions. Those with parents kept looking at them to make sure they were not saying the wrong thing. Even as an adult watching the trial, I felt overwhelmed and struggled to understand what was happening and what the implications were for the future of these children.

Creating a court system that reflects the unique circumstances and vulnerabilities of children is long overdue. This isn’t about giving people shortcuts. Rather, it’s about giving every child a fair chance to file a claim for U.S. protection in court. A judge must then ultimately determine whether the child qualifies to remain or return to their home country.

Child safety should not be a divisive political issue. A bipartisan bill in Congress recognizes this and addresses the injustices in our immigration court system for children. The Immigration and Children’s Court Efficiency Act would establish a Children’s Court focused on streamlining immigration proceedings for migrant children, creating a more child-friendly environment where unaccompanied children have a better chance of receiving due process while also creating a more efficient process.

The bill would provide judges with special training to work with children going through the immigration system, establish procedures that allow children to fully understand and participate in their proceedings, and require courts to work with pro bono organizations that provide legal representation to unaccompanied children. Not only would this be a huge benefit to thousands of children, it would also reduce the burden on the existing immigration court system, which currently has a backlog of more than three million cases.

Immigration policy and politics are complex and difficult. But recognizing our shared value of protecting children is simple.

Coming to the United States and ultimately attending Texas A&M gave me one of the greatest gifts I could have asked for: opportunity. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the American dream. All children who come to this country deserve that same chance—and we can help make that happen by changing the system that determines their fate.

Jorge Bermudez is the Chairman and CEO of Byebrook Group, former Chief Risk Officer of Citigroup/Citibank. He immigrated to the United States without his parents from Cuba at age 10 and lives in Austin.

By meerna

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