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Court ruling could help get immigrant kids out of detention

Tens of thousands of those who have entered the U.S. illegally in recent years are children unaccompanied by parents. Many of these kids are fleeing Central American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are seeking to escape the rampant drug and gang violence of their homelands.

The question of what happens to those children once they reach the U.S. and are detained by federal authorities has been a controversial one. Most are placed with family members already in the country so that they can go to school while waiting for their cases to be decided in the immigration court system.

However, authorities can decide to detain them instead. The Department of Health and Human Services has the legal right to keep these kids in a secure facility if they are alleged to have committed a crime or to pose a danger to others or themselves.

At question has been whether these children have the right to seek a court hearing to challenge their detention and find out why they cannot be released to family in the U.S. This month, a federal appeals court ruled that they do have this right.

In its decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited the case of a teen who had been detained for 16 months before being released to his mother. The teen spent most of that period in a juvenile detention center without receiving a hearing or being told why he couldn't be released.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that because HHS now had authority over unaccompanied immigrant children, these bond hearings were no longer a requirement. However, in this latest ruling, the court says that the law doesn't give HHS sole authority over what happens to these kids. They should be provided "an opportunity for counsel to bring forth the reasons for the minor's detention, examine and rebut the government's evidence, and build a record regarding the child's custody."

Immigration advocates have been in favor of these hearings. One immigration attorney says, "If you don't give kids transparency and a clear finite date when their detention will end you see all kinds of psychological effects."

It remains to be seen if the DOJ, under the new administration, will continue to fight against these hearings. In the meantime, it's essential for immigrants, no matter what their status, to understand their rights and have them protected.

Source: KPBS, "Court: Detained Immigrant Children Entitled To Court Hearing," July 06, 2017

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