Why Can’t Immigrant Teens be With Sponsors, Foster Families? Attorneys Push for Changes

The government’s care of migrant children in its custody is in the spotlight following the death of a 16-year-old from Guatemala.

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas attorney, who secured the release of an immigrant boy from federal custody, now hopes to use that victory to remove teenage migrants without family in the United States from government shelters to live with sponsors.

Ricardo de Anda, a Laredo trial lawyer turned asylum attorney, persuaded a judge last week to allow Byron Xol, 8, to live with Holly and Matthew Sewell, a couple who did not know the boy before he came to the U.S. Byron had been in four different federal facilities for children for 11 months.

Although de Anda celebrated the judge’s decision to allow Byron to live temporarily with the Sewells, he said many teenagers who came to the U.S. without parents are living in federal custody with no family, relatives or guardians here to be foster parents, and face the danger of being deported when they turn 18.

At that age, the federal government removes them from its facilities for children and turns them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE places the teens in an adult detention facility and begins expedited removal proceedings.

“There’s children 15- or 16-years-old who ran way or were abused, neglected and threatened by gangs, and thousands of children who have no one in the U.S. and no one to sponsor them,” de Anda told NBC News.

Immigrant teenagers have a year from when they come to the U.S. to claim asylum, but unless they have a lawyer who makes them aware, it’s unlikely teenagers will figure this out on their own, he said.

“This ruling can go a long way in placing children in the hands of American families who can not only care for them, but see they get their immigration status adjusted so they can remain here,” he said.

By Suzanne Gamboa for NBC NEWS

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