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With the death toll of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant enforcement agenda rising, two alarming policy changes were exposed this week targeting the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children.

First, on June 5, the administration announced it will cut critical services for unaccompanied immigrant children who are detained in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), including educational services, legal services, and recreation. In an article in the Washington Post, National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy called this decision “another ploy to secure tax dollars to lock people up.”

NIJC’s Immigrant Children’s Protection Project provides Legal Orientation Presentations, legal screenings, and some legal representation to hundreds of unaccompanied children detained in ORR shelters in the Chicago area. NIJC has received no information about whether our legal services will be impacted. We are monitoring the situation and considering potential challenges if the administration follows through with these cuts.

On the same day that news broke about these services cuts, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made public a May 31, 2019 policy memorandum that substantially changes the manner in which unaccompanied immigrant children’s asylum cases are adjudicated.  As a result of this memorandum, many young asylum seekers who arrived alone to the United States and were previously designated as unaccompanied children may no longer be able to seek asylum before the USCIS asylum office, where until now they have been allowed to present their claims in non-adversarial settings with government officers who are specially trained to interview asylum seekers and trauma survivors. Instead, children may be required to seek asylum through formal, adversarial court hearings where they may be cross-examined by government prosecutors, even if they appear without attorneys.

“NIJC is working closely with our network of pro bono attorneys to determine the best course of action for each of the hundreds of children we represent who could be affected,” McCarthy said. “As the administration’s anti-immigrant policies continue to deteriorate the rights of children seeking safety in the United States, Congress needs to know that Americans object to spending our tax dollars on inhumane enforcement and detention.”

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