Monday, May 16, 2022

How Do You Teach 6-Year-Olds Their Legal Rights?

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Good morning.

Every Tuesday and Friday, Lindsay Toczylowski visits the Long Beach Convention Center, the place she gathers small teams of youngsters, some as younger as 6, for a 45-minute lesson.

She’s not there to show the ABCs. She’s there to teach them about their authorized rights.

Toczylowski is an immigration lawyer. Her college students are migrants who crossed the southwestern border with out a dad or mum.

Since April, the conference heart has been housing youngsters, lots of them Central Americans who fled violence and poverty. Transferred there from Border Patrol custody, they continue to be in Long Beach till their potential guardians, sometimes members of the family, submit the paperwork required by the federal authorities to show that they’re associated and that the kids can be secure.

During their keep at emergency shelters in Southern California, which might stretch days or perhaps weeks, the kids take part in music, artwork and different actions. The purpose of Toczylowski’s nonprofit legal-aid group, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, is to teach relatively than entertain them.

“We want to make sure they know that they are not alone in their legal process,” stated Toczylowski, who’s the chief director of Immigrant Defenders and who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “No immigrants stand alone” in Spanish.

Credit…Renee Garcia, Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Each day, a staff of legal professionals and paralegals from the nonprofit group visits the conference heart and the Pomona Fairplex, one other non permanent shelter for migrant youngsters, to conduct “know your rights” displays.

Having entered the nation with out permission, the kids are in deportation proceedings. But in the event that they observe the suitable steps, they might win the suitable to stay within the United States. The legal professionals purpose to ship that message with a energetic PowerPoint. One slide depicts a courtroom with cartoon figures of a choose, legal professionals and a clerk. Then a toddler pops up on the display screen.

“That is you, I tell the kids, and you are the most important person in the immigration courtroom,” Toczylowski stated. “This is your chance to tell your story — why you came to the U.S. and what you are hoping for.”

The youngsters be taught they’ve the suitable to a court docket interpreter, and they’re suggested to have a lawyer by their facet. Immigrant Defenders helps join them with legal professionals.

Attending each court docket date, the kids are instructed, provides them one of the best shot at successful asylum or a visa that may put them on the trail to everlasting U.S. residency. But in the event that they miss a listening to, a choose can order their deportation in absentia.

“We drive home that point by asking them what happens if one team doesn’t show up for a soccer game: It loses,” she stated. “In court, showing up for your hearings doesn’t guarantee you win. But if you don’t show up, you will automatically lose, like the soccer team.”

The staff has briefed lots of of youngsters, together with these quarantined as a result of they examined constructive for the coronavirus upon arrival on the conference heart.

To be certain that sponsors of the kids are additionally conscious of the authorized course of, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, has been coaching the case managers who deal with the minors’ reunification with the adults receiving them.

“We are going to have thousands of kids with immigration cases going on for years,” stated Kimberley Plotnik, program director at Esperanza. “It’s not over once they leave the shelters.”

Most of the kids know they’re in Long Beach, and a few even inform Toczylowski that town could be referred to as “playa larga” in Spanish. They inform her that they like being on the conference heart relatively than a border facility, the place they sleep on the bottom, with solely a wafer-thin sheet to cowl them. The meals is significantly better, too, they report.

Toczylowski usually shares with the migrants that she has youngsters their age, Maya, 11 and Santiago, 6.

As Mother’s Day approached, she couldn’t cease eager about slightly lady she had met. The 7-year-old baby from Central America had been carrying a cellphone, the place she had her mom’s contact info saved as she traveled north. Agents who processed her after she was intercepted on the border saved the system, and she or he had not memorized the quantity.

Toczylowski recalled her sharing the one factor she knew: “My mommy lives where it snows.”

Later, the little lady’s eyes stuffed with tears, and she or he requested, “Will I get adopted? Will I stay here forever?”

About 10 days later, she was reunited along with her mom within the Midwest.

Compiled by Jonathan Wolfe

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