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Unaccompanied Child Migrants

The Latin American Coalition is collaborating with Charlotte area faith groups, attorneys, social organizations, city and county leaders, media, and individuals to form the Compassion Action Network for Children, or Charlotte CAN.

This page is a resource for those wishing to do more to help the Central American children who have recently come to the U.S. and have made their way to the Charlotte area.

How to help

Make a donation. Donate to the legal funds of Charlotte-Mecklenburg area unaccompanied children and their families via Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. Make sure to direct the donation to the Immigration Assistance Project (IAP).

Do you speak Spanish fluently? To be an interpreter please contact Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and fill out a brief online application. Mention your interest in the Children within Borders Project.

Are you a lawyer? Please consider providing pro bono services. Contact Tin Nguyen via email or Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. Mention your interest in the Children within Borders Project.

Are you a healthcare practitioner? Please consider providing pro bono medical services. To volunteer services or donate directly for medical care please contact Kathyrn Coiner-Collier at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont via email.

Lobby your representatives in person, by phone, or email. Contact Lacey Williams, Advocacy Director at the Latin American Coalition, via email.

Write an op-ed or letter to the editor of the Charlotte Observer. More info on how here.

Get more info on the Charlotte CAN Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/CharlotteCAN2014

Questions, Answers, Facts

(Compiled by Louise Clark, National Organization for Women, Charlotte Chapter)

Where are the unaccompanied children coming from?
More than three-quarters of the children are from mostly poor and violent towns in three countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

When did the influx of unaccompanied children start?
The number of unaccompanied children began to increase in 2012, mainly driven by children fleeing harm in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Why are these children running to our border for refuge?
Although the reasons tend to depend on the child's home country, children and families are escaping violence, deadly gang threats, trafficking, sexual abuse, and situations of extreme poverty. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, while El Salvador ranks #4 and Guatemala ranks #5. Children and youth in Central America are particularly vulnerable to violence both by gangs and drug cartels attempting to forcibly recruit children as young as five years old into their ranks. These gangs go into the schools for recruitment, making children who don’t want to join unable to attend school and receive an education.

What risks do these children face getting to our borders?
Children traveling alone to rejoin family in the United States are extremely vulnerable to rape, assault, and exploitation on their journey. They come to the U.S. seeking protection, safety, or to join their families. Their situations in their home country are so grave that their parents feel this journey offers their children a chance for survival.

What happens when unaccompanied children turn themselves in to Border Patrol?
When children are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection, they are held in Border Patrol facilities. These facilities are generally just a concrete room, with concrete or metal benches, an open toilet and sink. All of these children are placed in immigration removal proceedings, and are given a court date on which they have to appear before an immigration court and argue their case for whether they qualify for authorization to stay. If they do not, they are ordered removed.

Why do many feel morally obligated to respond to these immigrant children in crisis?
As Americans, we know the importance of treating all human beings with compassion, respect and dignity. It is essential that we extend those values to vulnerable children who desperately need our help. Our government has joined international treaties and passed laws that say we will protect children who are in danger, and we must provide a fair and legal process to ensure that we follow these treaties and laws.

What are examples of our strong American legacy of protecting vulnerable children?
• Refugee Act of 1980: The U.S. demonstrated its commitment to welcoming those fleeing persecution by providing asylum-seekers, regardless of legal status, the right to submit a claim for protection.

• Flores v. Reno Settlement Agreement 1997: Requires the U.S. government to comply with due process rights for unaccompanied migrant children, established a mandatory policy in favor of release to family members instead of detention. This law ensures that children are treated humanely and prevented from family separation.

• Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008: The act ensures compliance of Flores and also requires the U.S. government to ensure children are screened for potential trafficking before they return to their home countries. It reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the interests of the child.

Is the United States the only place Central Americans are seeking asylum?
No. Asylum claims are increasing all over the region. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize documented a 435% increase in asylum applications from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Are these unaccompanied children receiving fair legal representation?
No. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is required to ensure the legal representation of all unaccompanied children in legal proceedings to protect them against trafficking, exploitation and mistreatment. Despite this requirement, currently an estimated 70-90% of unaccompanied children do not have legal representation depending on their location and the lack of legal resources.

Are these children already here in North Carolina?
Yes. North Carolina has recently welcomed 1,154 children between January 1st and July 31, 2014. Mecklenburg County is already home to 488 children who are with family or sponsors. In most cases, these children have re-joined their parents and are currently awaiting immigration proceedings.

What effect will these children have on our public schools?
There are currently 50.1 million K-12 students in public schools across the U.S. In North Carolina, these children represent an increase of less than one-tenth of 1% of the student population. Children who attend our schools have typically been vaccinated in their home countries and, as a safety precaution, are given a medical exam and a complete slate of vaccinations by the Office of Refugee Resettlement before being released to their sponsors.

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