Reuniting families has been a major point of conversation in immigration news this May. This week, we’ve seen efforts to expedite the reunification process, the impact that living in sanctuary can have on a family, and funding for undocumented students.
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1. Migrant children have been in US custody for weeks. Now the Biden administration has to reunite them with families – Thursday, May 13
While the number of minors apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border slightly declined in April to just over 17,000, but due to short staffing, case managers are struggling to keep up with their caseloads. This is delaying reunification and increasing the number of children in custody for greater periods of time. As a result, staff from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) have been helping with case management by training new personnel and transitioning to a virtual case management system in the hopes of reuniting children with their families and sponsors faster. One of these minors, a 17-year-old girl from El Salvador named Meybelin, has been in custody for over a month at a San Diego convention center waiting to be released to a relative here in the U.S. While it typically takes about 30 days to release a child to their sponsor, this process can be slowed down by paperwork, understaffing, and vetting processes. Another hurdle is that sometimes minors show up with little to no information to verify their identity and find their sponsor. Even after a child is reunited with their sponsor, they still have to go through immigration proceedings, where a judge ultimately decides whether they will remain in the U.S. or be returned to dangerous conditions in their home country.
“What’s frustrating about this case is there’s a natural brother here, there’s an attorney who knows what they’re doing. But we’re getting a run around. You might expect that if you’re calling Amazon about a lost package, but this is a child.”
—Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigration attorney based in Texas, referring to Meybelin’s older brother
2. ‘All Our Opportunity Was Taken Away’: Sanctuary Family Slowly Restarts Life – Thursday, May 13
years living in sanctuary in a Philadelphia church to avoid deportation. While sanctuaries are not new, the number of people living in sanctuaries increased under the Trump administration due to fewer protections from deportation. The Thompson family, now in the final stages of the green card process, say that living outside of sanctuary has been a huge adjustment. Prior to living in sanctuary, the Thompson family fled Jamaica after their farm burned down and Oneita’s brother was murdered. While they are now eligible for a family-based green card, USCIS has a backlog of 1-2 years for processing green cards and up to one year for work permits. While things are looking up for the Thompson family, they know they still have a long way to go.
“We are so grateful for them, and even to this day, they’re still in our life. They check on us every day, even though we are not in the church.”
—Clive Thompson, speaking about his time in the sanctuary
3. White House Says Undocumented Students Can Receive Pandemic Aid – Tuesday, May 11
The Biden administration ruled on Tuesday that it would no longer require universities to consider the immigration status of students when determining their eligibility for federal grants, a reversal from a Trump-era policy. This means that all students, including those who have not applied for federal aid before, are now eligible for some relief through pandemic stimulus aid to their universities. Last year, undocumented students were barred under the Trump administration from receiving any grants from the $6 billion from the CARES Act that went towards emergency relief funds. The funds will now be distributed under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
“Undocumented people have been largely left out of federal Covid-19 relief, so access” to the funds “for undocumented students is crucial.”
—José Muñoz, a spokesman for United We Dream, a youth-focused immigration advocacy network
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