In early June, President Obama announced that the influx of unaccompanied foreign national children across the southwest border of the United States was causing an urgent humanitarian situation that requires a unified and coordinated federal response. Some 60,000 unaccompanied children are expected to be apprehended this year, up significantly from the almost 25,000 children apprehended in fiscal year 2013. And, young girls and children under 13 are entering the country more than ever before. The federal response, headed up by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), includes housing, medical treatment, food, and other services for these children; $1.4 billion has been requested to provide such services. Most of the children are from Mexico and Central American, and are fleeing violence, poor economies, and/or are seeking to be reunited with family members already in the United States. One of the reasons cited for the recent unprecedented influx was false rumors that the U.S. was giving a special entry “permit” to unaccompanied minors and women travelling with children but only until the end of June. Currently, such minors are housed in a facility for 30–45 days then released to a parent, relative, or sponsor. The release, however, does not stop removal proceedings if deemed appropriate.
Border officials also opened an investigation into claims of abuse by border agents on the southwest border made by five legal groups. The charges include depriving food and medical care to the youth while in holding cells.
As part of this federal response, the Department of Justice (DOJ), through its Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which operates the AmeriCorps national service program, entered into a strategic partnership to enroll approximately 100 lawyers and paralegals as AmeriCorps members to provide legal services to the most vulnerable of these children. The goal is “to better serve vulnerable populations . . . and improve court efficiency through pilot efforts aimed at improving legal representation.” In addition, DOJ officials believe the AmeriCorps members will help identify unaccompanied immigrant children who have been victims of human trafficking or abuse to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those who perpetrate such crimes.
The program will serve children in the immigration court locations where grants are awarded; will be limited to children under the age of 16 who are not in the custody of DHS or HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement; who have received a notice to appear in removal proceedings before an immigration court; and have not had their cases consolidated with removal proceedings against a parent or legal guardian. Programs must be located in Arlington (VA), Atlanta, Baltimore, Bloomington (MN), Boston, Charlotte (NC), Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Hartford, Kansas City (MO), Las Vegas, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Newark, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland (OR), San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Applications are due July 22, but applicants are encouraged to send a notice of intent to apply by July 15. Successful applicants will be notified in late September.