Expedited Hearings in NYC For Illegal Minors

NEW YORK (AP) -

A federal immigration court in Manhattan that usually deals with fewer than 100 new children’s cases a month is getting a lot busier.

Twenty-nine minors who entered the country unaccompanied by adults appeared last Wednesday before Judge James Loprest, Jr., some with attorneys, others with family by their sides. Six-year-old Gabriela and her brother Brandon Lopez, 15, were among the minors hoping to be allowed to legally stay with family already living in the U.S.

The “surge docket” is an initiative by the federal government to help expedite the legal process for the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have been processed into the system since October.

The unaccompanied minors are fleeing poverty, gang-violence and death. Several groups have been preparing for the surge in cases since they learned 3,347 unaccompanied minors had arrived in the state since January. New York is second to Texas with the most cases.

“We want to make sure we know what the process looks like,” said Jojo Annobil, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society.

The daily surge dockets through the end of August will have an average of 30 cases per day, as opposed to an average of 30 a month until now. This week alone will see dockets with 65 new cases in just one day.

This is good news for children like Jhovany Ortega … like the Lopez siblings, he also came alone to the U.S. to reunite with family. And like Gabriela, he also was left behind in El Salvador by his parents when just a baby.

“We knew each other over the phone and over Skype,” said his mother, Enma De Jesus, 32, who lives on Long Island.

“[Holidays] and then birthdays — those days were the hardest to be apart,” said Jhovany, in his native Spanish.

Poverty and a lack of opportunity were initial reasons for leaving, added De Jesus, who has been in the U.S. for nearly 10 years.

Gabriela and Brandon needed to leave their home country to get away from extortionists, said their father, 35-year-old Emerson Lopez.

“I began to hear rumors that they were going to start charging rent for each head. In my home country, they call them ‘heads.’ They treat people as if they are cattle, and that’s when my wife a nd I made the decision to send for them,” he said.