How can a U.S.-born child end up being deported as an undocumented immigrant? Without a lawyer, it can happen quite easily—and it almost did, says Shane Ellison, chair of the Nebraska State Bar Association Immigration Section and director of Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska (JFON-NE).
He recounts the case of a teenage girl in Nebraska who was born in Florida and then moved to Central America as a young child. Upon re-entering the United States last year, she had no proof of her birth or citizenship, and was thus scheduled for a removal proceeding without a lawyer.
Once alerted to the situation, JFON-NE took on the case and then worked with the immigration court in Omaha and with attorneys for Homeland Security to extend the case while pro bono lawyers worked to rebuild the girl’s past.
“We had to start from scratch. We had to help her secure that proof through the hospital [where she was born]. It’s taken us nine months to a year, but we’re finally starting to see the light of day,” Ellison says. “Without the representation of counsel, this legal U.S. citizen could have been deported.”
In Colorado, “we focus on individual children’s stories,” says Abbie Johnson, managing attorney for the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “We had a 10-year-old girl who was threatened by gangs, who viewed her as their ‘girlfriend.’ In the end, you have children who have no control over their lives and just want safety.”