Legal Orientation Program for Custodians
Thousands of minors pass through U.S. immigration courts every year, and the number of youths found in immigration proceedings continues to rise. Many children and teenagers come alone, unaccompanied by adults whom they know. Sometimes they are sent by family in another country to live with relatives in the United States. Others migrate out of fear for their safety in home countries rife with violence and discord.
When these minors are detained at the border, those who are from Mexico are often swiftly returned home, but those from Central American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are placed in detention centers run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Such minors can go through a process of “reunification” with a person in the United States in order to be freed and live with that person while attending removal proceedings, which can last for years.
In our San Francisco office, the Immigration Center for Women and Children provides Legal Orientation Program for Custodians (LOPC) of Unaccompanied Alien Children who are in, or released from, custody of ORR. As part of the reunification process, in order for the child to be released from custody of ORR, many of these custodians have been fingerprinted in the Women’s Building where ICWC’s office is located. Our orientations are intended to inform the children’s custodians of their responsibilities in ensuring the child’s appearance at all immigration proceedings, as well as protecting the child from mistreatment, exploitation, and trafficking, as provided under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2009.
The orientations describe the immigration and removal process, including the fact that there are no ICE officials at the San Francisco Immigration Court with authority to detain immigrants without legal documentation. We also review resources available to custodians to ensure that their children are not exploited or mistreated, and we explain the main types of immigration relief available to children.
After the orientations, ICWC staff provide legal screenings to any child who wants one, or to the custodian of children who are not present at the orientation. We provide referrals to agencies with resources to provide legal services at low or no cost.
During orientations, we provide information about:
- Immigration court proceedings
- Responsibilities of a custodian
- Educational opportunities for children
- Access to medical and social services
- Immigration benefits for which children may be eligible
- How to locate immigration attorneys
We also conduct free immigration consultations for UACs after the custodian has attended an orientation. If you are a custodian who has already attended an orientation and would like a free immigration consultation for the child by phone, please call ICWC at 415-861-1449.
In efforts to combat exploitation and abuse, ICWC has gathered information on resources for children in the Bay Area in a resource guide, based on a similar guide created by Catholic Charities of New York City.
Group Orientation Schedule
ICWC’s group orientations are held in the Women’s Building in San Francisco on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month from 10:00-11:15 am, and on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month from 5:00-6:15 pm. Additionally, some custodians who are unable to attend group orientations are provided with individual orientations in the office. If a custodian lives more than 50 miles from our site, ICWC can provide a telephonic orientation.
LOPC Success Stories
Two cases illustrate the types of relief ICWC Legal Orientation Program for Custodians (LOPC) provides to these children.
“Juan” was taken into government custody at the Texas/Mexico border, and then released into the custody of his mother. Juan’s mother came to an LOPC orientation and learned that through a new interpretation of the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status law, Juan might qualify for permanent resident status. ICWC was able to submit an application for SIJS and permanent residence for Juan and another application to terminate his deportation process. Juan’s SIJS application has been approved, and after his deportation process is successfully terminated, he will be granted permanent resident status.
“Elsa” was also released from ORR custody to her mother. Elsa and her mother attended an orientation and learned about the U Visa. Elsa’s mother had been a victim of a violent crime and therefore qualified for the U Visa, which will put her and her “derivative beneficiary” children, including Elsa, on a path to permanent resident status. ICWC submitted the family’s U Visa applications in February 2013. We also asked the Immigration Court to Administratively Close Elsa’s removal process. When the U Visa applications are approved (some time in 2014), we will be able to permanently terminate the removal process.
Other custodians have expressed that LOPC helped alleviate some of their fears about going to court and gave them useful information about the process.
- “Really, thank you so much. It was a big help to me. Now I know how to start looking for lawyers and I know how to move forward to help my daughter stay here legally.”
- “Now, yes [I feel comfortable attending court], after having received this orientation.”
- “Thank you very much because the truth is that it is very great help. Before, I was very scared of sending my children to court. Thank you.”
Program for Children Outside of Northern California
Our San Francisco office provides LOPC services for those located in Northern California. If you are seeking services for someone outside of this area, please note that LOPC providers are located throughout the country. You may refer to the documents below to find a provider in your area. If you are unable to reach LOPC services in your area, either due to distance from facilities or because you live in another state, please call the LOPC Call Center.
- National Call Center for Custodians of Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors: 1-888-996-3848
For more information:
Call us at 415-861-1449 to register for an orientation or make a referral.