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Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 ext. 235,  E-mail: tyaku@thenyic.org
New York  (Wednesday, June 18, 2014)


 Legal Service Providers Discuss Roots, Challenges, and Action Required to Address Growing Humanitarian Crisis and What It Means for New York

(New York, NY) Today, immigrant rights advocates and legal service providers met at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) to discuss the impact of the unaccompanied minors crisis in New York. Recent statistics put the number of children who have crossed from Latin America to the U.S by foot, fleeing poverty and violence, from October 2013 to May 2014 at over 47,000. Some of these minors have already made their way to New York to reunite with their families and are adjusting to a new school system, language, and way of life after traumatic journeys. The majority of these young people are between eight and fourteen years of age, however reports of children crossing with siblings at even younger ages have also been reported. 

Experts spoke about what this surge of children to the U.S really means and what New York State can do to support minors who are now in New York. The advocates also identified a critical need for resources, services, and coordination to respond to this crisis. 

“Although anti-immigrant pundits have been quick to try to score cheap political points and label the issue as one of undefended borders, the reality is that this is a sobering humanitarian crisis that will require an urgent, coordinated response to meet the real human needs of these children,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “In New York, we must ensure that legal organizations and service providers, social workers and schools are all well coordinated to meet the major needs of these recent child arrivals to New York."”

“The thousands of children who are fleeing violence in Central America to find safety in the United States present a new kind of refugee crisis, one which current immigration law and related social services are insufficient to deal with,” said C. Mario Russell, director and senior attorney at the Division of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, NY. “The committed response of government and of non-governmental agencies such as Catholic Charities must be supported by new and inclusive programs, even if temporary, that expand the range of legal remedies and social services for children, while at the same time properly addressing basic national security concerns. This is necessary to ensure children are guaranteed safety, are given proper care during and after their detention, and find the stability that they deserve.”

Left to Right: Heather Axford, staff attorney at Central American Legal Assistance; Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition; Lenni Benson, Professor of Law and director of Safe Passage Project at New York Law School, and Mario Russell, director and senior attorney at the Division of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, NY speak on the crisis of unaccompanied minors and the impact in New York. 

“Over the past two years, Safe Passage attorneys and volunteers have interviewed hundreds of children from Central America. For many, staying in their country of origin meant facing violence, persecution, and physical threats,” said Lenni B. Benson, director of the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School. “For others, one or both of their parents is already living in the United States and the parents had no way to sponsor their child to join them. As the situation grew more dangerous in the home country, some parents made a difficult choice to send for their child. In others, the child initiated the journey. The median age of these children is 14. We have to provide the children an opportunity to be heard and to present their claims for protection under domestic and international law. Due Process may feel expensive, but it is the best tradition of the United States.”

“The driving force behind these children fleeing is primarily survival rather than immigration opportunism. Many have lost close family members or been injured themselves.  Unless we look at this crisis in that context, we have a dangerously incomplete understanding of what is going on,” said Heather Axford, senior staff attorney at Central America Legal Assistance (CALA). “However, because our limited Asylum laws excludes from protection individuals who are fleeing ’generalized violence’ or criminal activity, many of these children are left without legal protection under our current immigration laws. This phenomenon must be viewed as a larger humanitarian crisis, and not something that our existing, very broken, immigration system is equipped to address.”

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The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for nearly 200 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees.The NYIC aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all by promoting immigrants’ full civic participation, fostering their leadership, and providing a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.


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