U.S. Immigration Judges Considering Asylum For Unaccompanied Minors Are ‘Significantly Influenced’ By Politics

The news over the past months has been saturated with stories about another “surge” of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border of the U.S.

In March 2021, the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended in the U.S. reached an all-time monthly high of 18,890. This surpassed the previous monthly high of 11,681 in May 2019.

One question not addressed in many of these stories is: How many of these children actually receive asylum and are allowed to stay in the country?

The people who make those decisions are immigration judges. Their decisions are supposed to be based on whether these children have fears of being persecuted in their home countries and whether these fears are realistic.

But our research examining the period from early October 2013 until the end of September 2017 shows that these judges were influenced by factors outside of the case. Political factors such as ideology, political party of the president who appointed them and who was president at the time they decided the case significantly influenced whether these children were allowed to stay in the country.

Aside from political factors, immigration judges are also influenced by local contexts, such as unemployment levels, the number of uninsured children and size of Latino population in the places where they work.

Unaccompanied minors and asylum
Under U.S. law, an unaccompanied minor is a child under 18 years old who does not have lawful immigration status and no parent or legal guardian in the country who can provide care or custody.

Unaccompanied minors cannot be refused entry or removed from the country without legal process because of the 1993 Supreme Court case Reno v. Flores. In 2008, new legislation allowed asylum officers to grant these children asylum at the U.S. border. If the asylum officer denies asylum to the minor, the minor may request asylum before an immigration judge.

Because immigration judges are not appointed under Article III of the Constitution, as federal judges are, they have less independence than those federal judges.

By Daniel Braaten And Claire Nolasco Braaten For THE CONVERSATION
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