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Sen. Michael Bennet, others introduce bipartisan legislation that would create a children’s immigration court

The proposed legislation would include specially trained judges and procedures to handle immigration cases of unaccompanied children
U.S. Michael Bennet of Colorado speaks to Fox News about a bipartisan bill to create a Children’s Immigration Court address the obstacles that 62,000 migrant children currently face in the U.S. immigration system. (Courtesy of Michael Bennett’s Office)

WASHINGTON – A new bipartisan immigration bill seeks to provide children who crossed the border without a parent access to a children’s court, many of whom enter the court system alone.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and five other senators and representatives introduced on Wednesday the Immigration Court Efficiency and Children’s Court Act of 2023 to address the obstacles that 62,000 migrant children currently face in the U.S. immigration system.

The new court would include specially trained judges who have access to a children’s-only docket and incorporate child-appropriate procedures that allow children to understand the proceedings in a manner appropriate for their developmental stage. Children would also be connected with legal service organizations.

In 2022, 128,904 unaccompanied children across the country were referred to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. In the past three years, more than 3,900 undocumented children in Colorado were released to sponsors while awaiting immigration proceedings, according to the ORR.

“Children have unique vulnerabilities, specialized relief options, and differing abilities to understand and participate in the legal process,” Ashley Turner Harrington, the managing attorney of the Children Program at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, said in a news release. “While what is most needed is for every child to have an attorney to represent them in removal proceedings, children should at least be treated as children as they go through the immigration court process.”

Factors including economic opportunity, environmental challenges and violence are often common reasons for children arriving in the United States. Around 75-80% of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are estimated to be human trafficked, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Fran Eskin-Royer, the executive director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepard, said the proposed legislation would help children who were forced to migrate.

“This bill would help break the link between human trafficking and forced migration by protecting unaccompanied children who are innocent and too often caught in the riptide of these two difficult issues,” she said in a news release.

Bennet, who was part of the Gang of Eight that helped write and pass the last major piece of immigration legislation in 2013, said this rare bicameral and bipartisan bill will ensure unaccompanied children the care that they deserve.

“This bipartisan, pragmatic legislation demonstrates that we can find common ground and repair our broken immigration system to uphold the rule of law and honor our country’s heritage,” Bennet said.

Weslan Hansen is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at whansen@durangoherald.com.

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