Immigrant children needing lawyers could strain local resources - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Immigrant children needing lawyers could strain local resources

Loyola's Hiroko Kusuda talks about the law clinic's work to represent immigrant children. Loyola's Hiroko Kusuda talks about the law clinic's work to represent immigrant children.

As the illegal border crossings by children from Central America continue, it is evident the Immigration Court in New Orleans was not prepared for the number of child immigrants who have ended up in this area.

"I've been practicing many, many years, but this is the worst ever," said Hiroko Kusuda, who runs the immigration law section within Loyola's Law Clinic.

She said more and more, the law clinic is being asked to provide legal representation for undocumented children.

"I'm pretty sure it is going to be a very busy semester for us because New Orleans seems to be the destination for many, many children who are released from Texas," said Kusuda.

She believes there could be about 1,200 such children in the state and she said the law clinic's resources could be strained.

"We only represent people who are indigent, and we don't collect any legal fees from them, so it will be a difficult time definitely ahead of us in terms of finances, and lack of staff, and resources," Kusuda said.

Further complicating the process is the fact that there is no permanent judge for the New Orleans Immigration Court where the children are arraigned. The court is located inside Canal Place and is a function of the federal government.

Kusuda said getting an initial court date for the children is challenging. Under federal law, children who enter the U.S. illegally from noncontiguous countries must be afforded an immigration ruling before being allowed to stay, or be deported.

"It takes about almost a year, or a year-and-a-half to get a court date," she said.

Kusuda believes the United States has the resources to allow the children to remain here.

"We have been providing care to refugees coming from all over the world, why not? Why do we stop now? The United States has enough resources to provide care, especially to vulnerable children," Kusuda said.

But some in the community said America is a nation of laws, including immigration laws that should not be flouted.

"It's quite unbelievable to me, personally. I think it's a huge humanitarian issue. As a Children's Pastor, we feed tens of thousands of children around Central and South America already," said GNO Tea Party member Trey Roberts, of White Dove Church.

He said illegal immigration is just that, and the rampant law-breaking cannot be ignored.

"We have laws that are on the books that should be enforced. There's a reason we have borders. The first thing we need to do with this immigration issue is we need to secure our border. We don't know what's coming across, I mean, we see the kids, but this is a homeland security issue," Roberts said.

Whether the children get to remain in Louisiana or not, from a cultural standpoint Kusuda said the crisis is a huge learning experience for the law students at Loyola.

"Clinical students are learning how to talk to a client who doesn't speak English. They have to be able to gain trust from a child who may not be able to open up to us, maybe because of cultural barriers, or horrific experiences they have had on the way here," she said.

While Roberts is sympathetic to what the children have fled from in their home countries, he said America must uphold its laws and protect its borders. Ultimately, he thinks the children should be returned to their countries.

"If they came here illegally, as many of them we know have, then they have entered the country illegally, they have broken the law," he said.

Kusuda said there is a misconception that most of the children do not report back to court for subsequent hearings regarding their illegal status.

"Although the guardian may be undocumented, they are so eager to help their child, the family member, so the family members will go extra miles to make sure the child appears in court," she said.

Kusuda said on Sept. 4, Loyola will help train local attorneys who want to represent immigrant children in this area on a pro bono basis.

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