Fifteen unaccompanied children who entered the United States without immigration documents have been moved to Hawaii over the past year as they await immigration proceedings.
Nationally more than 69,000 unaccompanied minors entered the U.S. between October 2018 and August 2019 and were released to sponsors, according to data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Texas, California and Florida have each accepted thousands of unaccompanied children.
The number of children who have settled in Hawaii is much fewer in part due to the island chain’s distance from the mainland. But last year the Aloha State accepted more than Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The previous year, only one unaccompanied child came to the islands. Since 2014, Hawaii has accepted 34 total.
John Egan, a University of Hawaii law professor who leads the Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic at the UH law school, says most of the children who end up in Hawaii are here because they have family members living in the islands who agree to sponsor them.
His clinic represents four children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Often their family members are also undocumented and expose themselves to immigration proceedings by agreeing to care for a child.
Honolulu immigration attorney Clare Hanusz has one client living on the Big Island who fled Honduras as a child alone to escape the threat of gang violence. She says deportation proceedings often last up to five months — with up to two years for appellate processes — and that it’s become harder to fight deportation as the Trump administration has narrowed the definition of asylum.
“The kids whom I’ve met who have fled these incredibly difficult situations are some of the sweetest children I’ve met,” she said. “They only want the opportunity for safety and for a life and for a future and their countries are not able to give them that.
“I think it’s also very important for people to understand the historical forces that have led to the situations that are driving people from their homes which oftentimes are related to a history of very destructive U.S. foreign policy,” she added.
Egan says the UH law clinic is looking for attorneys who want to help pro bono.
“These are very complicated cases and there’s a real scarcity of volunteer legal help for them,” he says.
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