Religious leaders and immigration advocates voiced their concerns at a morning news conference, for migrant children that will go before a judge in Miami.
The fast-tracking of cases begins Friday, with three judges expected to hear 150 cases a day. The children are not entitled to a pro bono lawyer, and a primary concern is that fast-tracking violates their right to due process. Furthermore, without a lawyer, chances of deportation are high.
57,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at the border since October, and new federal numbers reveal most of the children are now living with relatives in the United States.
Florida is the state with the third-highest number of unaccompanied children released to sponsors at 3,181.
According to immigration advocates, these kids come from some of the most dangerous countries in the world, so deportation is a virtual death sentence for many of them. That's why they are calling on lawyers to help the kids navigate the complexities of immigration law so they have a fair shot of seeking asylum.
"The children we are seeing are primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador," said Sheryl Little, with Americans for Immigrant Justice. "We go to the two shelters every day and we meet with the children who have arrived."
Little said many of the kids are 12 and younger and some need trauma counseling.
"We had two immigration judges in Miami who were in charge of the children's docket," Little said. "Starting Friday there are three judges, and everybody is scrambling to try and ensure that we have an opportunity to help these kids. And in some cases, being deported could be a virtual death sentence."
Those who don't qualify for a sponsor go into temporary foster care or a long-term shelter, which becomes permanent if the child is granted legal status.
"We do not identify regular/permanent unaccompanied alien children program shelters for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities," a representative with the federal government told Local 10.
In the meantime, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he wonders who will be picking up the bill for the children while their immigration proceedings play out.
Advocates for the children are signing up attorneys, law students, paralegals, interpreters and other volunteers to offer their services from Aug. 4-Sept. 12. The 4 to 8 hour shifts start at 7:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. on weekdays. None of the judges have dockets on Monday mornings.