Louisville agencies thinking ahead about unaccompanied minors - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Louisville agencies thinking ahead about unaccompanied minors

Reverend Tony Aja Reverend Tony Aja
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Louisville has seen cases of unaccompanied children before concerning countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but with a large Central American population in the area some agencies are planning ahead.

“Actually unaccompanied children have been coming for several years, but not at the rate that they are coming in now," Reverend Tony Aja, of the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, said Monday.

Aja is the Coordinator for Hispanic/Latino and New Immigrant Ministries. He is preparing for if and when higher numbers of unaccompanied children arrive.

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"We are trying to mobilize the churches and the social service agencies that work with immigrants to see how we are going to react if unaccompanied children begin coming to Kentucky and especially the Louisville area," Aja said.

He estimates the current local Hispanic population at more than 70,000 and says the main reason the children come here is to find family.

But their home here is only temporary while immigration courts decide their future. The Executive Director for Kentucky Refugee Ministries John Koehlinger says it is untrue that the unaccompanied children are able to remain here indefinitely.

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"If we put them up in a shelter, they are going to be able to stay,” he explained. “But actually they have to appear in immigration court, but a lot of them don't have access to a lawyer."

The Kentucky Refugee Ministries’ national partner Church World Service has filed an emergency appeal to make sure any child who comes to the U.S. alone is guaranteed due process. Since majority of the children are running from violence and exploitation, they may qualify for asylum. Children migrating from Central America are supposed to be granted due process before being deported, according to a law signed by President George Bush in 2008.

"It poses some dilemmas in terms of managing our borders but also kind of challenges our countries capacity for humanitarian response," Koehlinger said.

The Obama Administration estimates the number of illegal immigrant children arriving to the U.S. this year will reach 90,000.

Currently, there are three temporary housing facilities in operation, Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas, Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme in California, and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The Department of Defense has committed the facilities to remain open for 120 days.

The average stay according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is less than 35 days.

In Fiscal Year 2013, according to the Administration for Children and Families, 37 percent of unaccompanied children traveled from Guatemala, 30 percent from Honduras, 26 percent from El Salvador and 3 percent from Mexico. According to the Department of Children Services, in 2013 77 percent of unaccompanied children were male and about a quarter of them were under the age of 14.

The Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation for the program is $868 million.

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