Thousands of unaccompanied children—some of whom have trekked hundreds, and in some cases thousands of miles—come to the U.S. each year searching for parents, or seeking work to support their families. Some have suffered physical abuse, parental abandonment or traumatic separations from their families.
Arrested by federal immigration authorities, these children, who range in age from two to seventeen years of age, are detained in restrictive settings where they face removal proceedings. The proceedings are administrative and adversarial, pitting children with limited English language skills against trained trial attorneys. While many children are not eligible for legal relief, they are all entitled to important legal protections and counsel. Some are eligible for asylum and protection under the UN Convention against Torture and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
Casa Cornelia is the only public interest law firm in San Diego County that provides free legal services to detained unaccompanied children in San Diego County. Beginning in 2009, and officially as of January 1, 2010, Casa Cornelia expanded the program to include children not currently in detention. Specifically, Casa Cornelia provides needed immigration legal services to all children that were detained elsewhere in the U.S, released in San Diego and are still in removal proceedings. In addition to these newly-released children, Casa Cornelia represents non-detained children in deportation proceedings as well as those children who are not in deportation proceedings but are eligible for the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Visa as an abused, abandoned or neglected child or eligible for asylum relief. Without this program, many children would not have access to relief or to the protection afforded them by law.
The unprecedented spike of unaccompanied children rose to the media’s attention in 2014. As a result, and after review, the White House declared the increase in arrivals to be a humanitarian crisis on June 2, 2014. Yet Casa Cornelia bore witness to the growing numbers of children as early as 2011.
In its inception year, the Children’s Program provided legal services to 120 children and until 2010 (nine years later), the number remained relatively unchanged rising to 180 children served that year. But in 2011, the program served 232 children, a marked increase from the previous year. The numbers have continued to trend higher and higher, forcing the organizations and government agencies charged with providing the care, housing, and legal services to find creative solutions to serve this vulnerable population. Casa Cornelia is among the organizations experiencing the impact of the alarming increase in child arrivals.
Locally, the increase in arrivals has been so severe that recently an addition of 15 more beds were added to the preexisting
75 beds, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency charged with providing care for the children while detained. At the start of 2014, only 25 beds existed for detained children in San Diego. As of December 2016, an additional 65 beds opened.
The Children’s Program serves:
1. every detained unaccompanied child at risk in San Diego County;
2. non-detained children in need of legal immigration relief
If you are caring for or seeking reunification with a child that meets one of the criteria above and are in need of legal representation, you may download an application here or request an application by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Para la aplicación en español, por favor oprima aqui. For any questions, please call our office at 619-231-7788.