In President Donald Trump’s America, the plight of undocumented immigrants just keeps worsening with every passing day.
However, when the history books of the future complete the section on Trump’s tenure, they will undoubtedly dedicate a considerable amount of pages to this dark chapter where migrant children were snatched from their parents’ arms and put in cages for an indefinite amount of time.
Just last month, when the White House faced court orders to reunite families separated at the border, the unaccompanied migrant toddlers were faced with another dilemma–to appear in immigration courts to defend their deportation.
The already distressed children, some of whom may not necessarily know the full names of their parents, are now supposed to have their fates determined by going through a complex legal system – all by themselves.
So, how exactly do these unaccompanied children defend themselves in the court without a parent or a lawyer by their side?
The Immigration Counseling Service (ICS), dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants by providing affordable legal services, produced a short film called “Unaccompanied” to depict the experiences of these kids in a setting of a proper court.
The clips featured formal court proceedings where wide-eyed kids wearing a look of utter confusion sat in front of a former Oregon Judge William Snouffer – who played the trial judge – to answer questions taken from actual court transcripts.
The reenactments, which were undoubtedly heartbreaking, gave a glimpse of the ordeal the current administration is putting hundreds of immigrant children through.
“Do you understand what these proceedings here in court are all about?” asked Judge Snouffer. The little boy, casually swinging his legs from the chair, shook his head no.
A little girl, Sophia’s response was no different. She didn’t even know what a lawyer was.
The kids are not to be blamed for their lack of knowledge, as considering their age they are not supposed to know who lawyers are or what deportation is. They are not supposed to be sitting in a courtroom–and most importantly, they are not supposed to be without their parents in a country which is completely foreign to them.
But, unfortunately, that’s the price they have to pay for being an undocumented immigrant in Trump’s America. What’s even more distressing is after going through this ordeal, they will still be most likely deported.
Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that makes unaccompanied minors get in touch with lawyers, explained that usually the parents of babies subject to deportation represent them. However, what these children are going through is totally different.
“Babies are subject to deportation,” she said.
Though requiring unaccompanied kids to go through deportation alone is not a new practice, the Trump administration’s notorious “zero-tolerance” policy has prompted a surge in such proceedings.
In fact, according to the data collected by the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the “U.S. has initiated more deportation proceedings against children in 2018 than in any other year for which data is available.”
The massive backlog of cases in the court have pushed pro-bono providers to its limits, so now the children have no choice but to appear in front of the judicature all on their own.
“I was stunned at the obstacles [the children] faced alone, and the disregard for their basic rights,” wrote producer and filmmaker Linda Freedman. “I know in my heart that this film will find those of you who will rise up, as you always do, to help your fellow humans in their time of need.”
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