According to the latest federal government figures, South Florida ranks third among the nation’s metropolitan areas with the highest number of Central American minors placed with sponsors, chiefly parents and other relatives.

Harris County, which includes Houston, has the largest number, with 2,866 minors placed with families, followed by Southern California (including Los Angeles and San Diego) at 2,369, and then South Florida with 2,268 (including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties).

Miami immigration lawyers are well acquainted with the ongoing influx of Central Americans to Miami. Of late, Central American immigrants have been in the news, with civil wars, gang violence and natural disasters have fueling the dramatic growth in Central American communities in the United States over the last 50 years.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were less than 50,000 Central Americans residing in the country in 1960. Today, people born in Central America account for nearly eight percent or 3.1 million of the immigrant population, the study says. The numbers began to increase in 1980 and accelerated in 1990, a period coinciding with civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, as well major hurricanes and earthquakes.

According to the study, California had the largest number of Central American immigrants, more than 800,000, followed by Texas with more than 350,000 and Florida, with more than 320,000.

Since 1980, due to the wars in Central America, many Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador and Guatemala, came to Los Angeles –  one of the most-Latin cities in the United States. The same trend occurred in Miami with the Cuban exiles being one of the reasons Central Americans chose to emigrate to Miami.

To date, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border so far this fiscal year, according to figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That equates to an almost 87.8 percent increase over arrivals last fiscal year. While these figures are unprecedented, U.S. officials indicate that the flow of minors may be slowing.

The Associated Press said last week that the Border Patrol detained 3,129 minors in August, compared to 5,400 in July and 10,600 in June.

Relief for Unaccompanied Central American Children>

Currently, three main forms of relief exist for unaccompanied Central American minors:

1. Asylum: This is theoretically possible, although immigration authorities insist persecution by gangs is not the same as being a member of a persecuted social group — a basis for being granted asylum.

2. Special Immigration Juvenile Status – Special Immigration Juvenile status depends on a state court’s taking custody of a child and specifically finding that he or she should not be returned to his or her home country because of danger of abuse, neglect or abandonment.

This is a complicated process, requiring evidence of family dysfunction in the home country, which may be difficult to provide. In addition, many children are not even represented by an attorney during removal proceedings. Many Miami immigration attorneys struggle with the fact that juvenile courts and judges may not be familiar with the immigration requirements.

3. Executive Action – President Obama could take executive action  and grant temporary protected status (TPS). U.S. presidents have granted such relief to Central Americans before. In 1998, Bill Clinton granted TPS to Honduran immigrants after Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc on the country’s economy and infrastructure. In 2001, George W. Bush ordered TPS for Salvadorans after a series of earthquakes hit El Salvador. TPS may be granted when conditions in the home country prevent safe return or when the country’s government cannot adequately handle their return.

Many Miami immigration lawyers, myself included, feel that President Obama has the authority to act, and that he should do so now, before one more child is sent back to deadly Central American streets. If he does not act, the children have only one option, which is really a non-option: ducking and dodging and disappearing into the U.S., along with 11 million other undocumented immigrants.

For more information about the topic of unaccompanied Central American minors, please contact Miami immigration lawyer Michael G. Murray, Esq. at (305)895-2500 or visit our website at www. 

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