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Attorney: Migrant children have long shot at legal status

PHOENIX -- A Valley immigration attorney believes hundreds of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally face a long journey. "Nobody in the immigration process in removal proceedings is entitled to an attorney," said Judy Flanagan.

That means the hundreds of children that arrived in southern Arizona over the weekend start out with a very difficult case.

"A lot of kids fall through the cracks," Flanagan said.

Oftentimes, children only get legal representation if a relative or guardian can hire an attorney on their behalf or an organization provides pro bono lawyers to help them.

Flanagan explained the process in which migrant kids who are apprehended by Border Patrol go through. Border Patrol first tries to place the children with a family member that has agreed to take care of them and agree to make sure the children show up in court.

"It's unaccompanied minors that don't have anybody here that would end up in one of the children's shelters," she said.

It is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that cares for the children and places them in shelters across the country.

Once children arrive in the facilities, they are questioned to see if there is anyone in the country that can take care of them. In the cases Flanagan has agreed to take at no cost, she interviews the child to understand their situation.

"See if there is potentially an asylum case," she said.

In some cases, there may be a possibility for relatives who live legally in the U.S. to help with a legal immigration recourse for the children.

Recently, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has caused many children to be drawn like magnets to the country, looking for a legal path to stay in the U.S. These migrant children, Flanagan explained, do not qualify for DACA.

"That's only for kids who have been here in the United States in 2012 and have been here for at least seven years prior to that," she said. "Many of these kids are not going to be eligible for anything and may eventually either have to take voluntary departure or a removal order."

The problem of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. is not new, but has intensified. The Associated Press reports authorities arrested 47,017 unaccompanied children on the border from October through May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier.

As for the chances these migrant kids may have at acquiring legal status in the U.S., Flanagan said the majority won't have a chance to stay in the country.

"It can be difficult to win asylum cases," she said.

Overall, Flanigan thinks the immigration system is flawed, and something needs to be done.

"I just hope immigration officials deal in a humane way with the young people that are coming through the system."

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About the Author


Martha is the traffic controller in the KTAR newsroom. Her full time role is that of Assignment and Breaking News Editor of KTAR News. She oversees daily Breaking News planning and over-the air execution, and puts together the elements that make it happen. She gathers and distributes daily news assignments to reporters and editors. She also reports on a daily basis, anchors news afternoons 1-2p and fills in as anchor occasionally during other time slots. She began working at KTAR in the winter of 2012 as Desk Editor and was promoted to oversee Assignments and Breaking News in 2014. During that time, she received two awards as a journalist. The first was the 2013 APTRA Awards, where she took home 2nd place for Best Serious Future in the "Recycled Orchestra." The second was a 2014 Edward R. Murrow Award for her collaboration in KTAR's Voice for a Better Arizona Series: Immigration - seeking solutions. In her piece, Martha profiled two Arizona sisters looking for the DREAM. Martha was born in Mazatlan, Mexico. She moved to Arizona in 1996 with her parents and younger sister and has lived here since. She attended Barry Goldwater High School in Phoenix and graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University in Tempe. Prior to working at KTAR news she worked in news and production at Univision Arizona in Phoenix. She also supervised the marketing, catering and public relations department at Hotel Araiza, 5-star hotel in Mexicali, Mexico. She has also been a personal trainer and aerobics instructor. When she isn't in the newsroom or behind the microphone Martha is an avid gym-goer and marathoner. She trains for two races a year and enjoys taking group exercise classes, such as kickboxing, indoor cycling and weight lifting. Martha is married and lives in Surprise, AZ with 2 dogs, Tasha and Elsa, and a cat, Sammy.

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