Most of the surge of children caught jumping the U.S.-Mexico border illegally over the past two years haven’t even had their cases decided by the immigration courts, leaving them in a legal limbo as states and counties struggle to assimilate them into schools and health care systems, according to a report released Thursday.
Some children caught more than two years ago are still waiting for final court dates. Of those whose cases were decided, nearly half of them didn’t show up, meaning they were ordered deported in-absentia, the Migration Policy Institute said in its review of Homeland Security data.
The Obama administration vowed to speed the children through courts to try to stop the surge, but the report concludes that cases continue to languish, with nearly 1,000 children caught as far back as 2011 still awaiting a final decision from an immigration judge.
Of those caught last year, when the summer surge was at its heaviest, less than 40 percent have gone through the courts. Most of those completed cases were because the illegal immigrant children never bothered to show up and were ordered kicked out of the country.
Illegal immigrant children with attorneys were more likely to win their cases, earning a pass to stay in the U.S. But even most of those involve a judge simply looking the other way and leaving them in the country illegally rather than granting them full legal status under asylum or a victim’s visa, the report found.
More troubling is that outcomes depend on the states where cases are heard.
Schools are feeling the most effects of the surge, as more than 75,000 illegal immigrant children were released to sponsors — usually relatives, but sometimes foster families — from Oct. 1, 2013, through Aug. 31 this year.
“The child migrants have an array of particular needs, and school districts have had to balance addressing these needs along with those of other students, within resource limitations,” the report said.
The federal government paid about $233 in special costs for those students last year, but that is just a fraction of the total for students who usually arrive with the need for intense educational help.
The problems are particularly tougher for teens who have arrived, often well behind their U.S.-born peers.
“Many schools and districts struggle with whether high schools in the K-12 system or adult education are the appropriate placement for these youth,” the report said.
The flow of children peaked at more than 10,000 in the early summer months last year before dropping to just a few thousand children by the fall.
This year, the surge started later and once again caught Homeland Security off guard. Administration officials have argued in court that they fear smugglers are using reports of lax enforcement and catch-and-release policies in the U.S. to entice more illegal immigrants to make the trip.
Also Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arizona chapter released a report detailing civil rights complaints lodged against Border Patrol agents in that state.
The report accused agents at checkpoints often dozens of miles from the border of illegally detaining or harassing motorists. Worse yet, the report said, nine of the 23 checkpoints in the Tucson sector didn’t yield a single arrest of anyone that should be deported in 2013, and another 15 checkpoints said they captured fewer than 10 each.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Yuma sector, the vast majority of those arrested at checkpoints were U.S. citizens, the ACLU said, raising questions of whether the checkpoints were aimed more at regular crimes than illegal immigration.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment, saying the issues are being litigated in court.