Immigration crisis shifts from border to courts

One year later, the number of children arriving at the border has sharply decreased, in part because Mexico has been returning children to their home countries before they can reach the United States.

But the crisis has not ended. It has simply shifted. It is playing out in courtrooms crowded with young defendants but lacking lawyers and judges to handle the sheer volume of cases. Thousands of children without lawyers have been issued deportation orders, some because they never showed up in court.

“The situation last summer was characterized as part of the overall immigration system being broken, and it’s taken us down the wrong policy path,” said Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, a national legal advocacy group. “This is not an immigration crisis; it’s a refugee crisis.”

About 84,000 children were apprehended at the Southwest border during the 2014 fiscal year and the first six months of the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Border Patrol. Of the 79,088 removal cases initiated by the government, 15,207 children had been ordered deported as of June, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.