SAN ANTONIO - Immigration attorney Linda Brandmiller didn't mince words about the proposed HUMANE Act hailed as a bipartisan solution to the border crisis.
"This is a thinly veiled deportation act," Brandmiller said.
Introduced as the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of San Antonio and Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo have said it would improve the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
Both have said it would treat unaccompanied minor children from Central America and Mexico the same way, by giving them the option to return to their home countries.
But Brandmiller said that would be left to Border Patrol speaking with young arrivals, many traveling alone and traumatized by their journey.
Brandmiller said they may be told, "You can fight your case but you're going to have stay locked up, or would you like to go back?"
She said for those agents, "It's unfair, unrealistic and frankly, it's just insane to think they'd have the time, skill or ability to determine the legal remedies a child would qualify for."
Brandmiller also said the shortened seven-day timeline for an immigration hearing with a decision due in 72 hours, would eliminate other legal remedies that would take longer.
She said instead of the children trying to qualify as victims of crime or trafficking, or because they cannot be reunified with a parent due to neglect or abandonment, they would have to seek asylum.
And yet Brandmiller said even if the HUMANE Act would add immigration judges, the backlogs in those courts persist.
A national study by Syracuse University in New York showed that in 2005, federal immigration courts only had 74 juvenile cases backlogged, while last year the backlog numbered 14,812-- a staggering 19,900 percent increase.
It also tracked deportations of juveniles who did or did not have legal representation at those hearings.
The study said last year only 25 percent who didn't have an attorney were allowed to stay, while 78 percent with legal counsel were not deported. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, those without an attorney allowed to stay increased to 42 percent, while those who were represented dropped to 66 percent.
Although the HUMANE Act refers to safe repatriations, Brandmiller said the current law was passed to create a safety net for minors.
She said although Mexico has its version of Child Protective Services, that system no longer exists in Honduras.
"Recently they closed it down, so who do you deport these children to?" Brandmiller said.
However, passage of the HUMANE Act remains uncertain for now.
Cuellar has been quoted as saying, he hopes his House colleagues will vote on the bill before the August recess.
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