HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Tens of thousands of Central American children and teenagers have crossed the border into the U.S. this year, saying they're fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum.
"They're from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador," said immigration attorney Claire Hanusz.
She chairs the Hawaii Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She said at least eight unaccompanied minors from Central America are now in Hawaii. Authorities sent them here to stay with relatives.
"It's easy to just paint these kids with a brush of, 'They're economic migrants' or 'They're juvenile delinquents and we just need to round them up and send them back.' But they're not," Hanusz said.
The immigrant influx into Texas and Arizona has triggered protests on the mainland from amnesty advocates and those who want the youths deported.
"Once they get to the border and they're minors, under the law they have their day in court," said Gary Singh, an immigration lawyer familiar with the Hawaii cases.
He said deciding whether the eight children will be allowed to stay in the state could take up to a year to decide in immigration court, longer if a ruling is appealed.
"You've got to put together an application," he said. "You need to get documents to support your position as to why you think you're life will be in danger."
Several Hawaii immigration lawyers have offered to represent the unaccompanied minors for free. Hanusz said they are complicated cases.
"There are no legal services, free legal services for these kids, like there would be a public defender for criminal cases," she said.
So far this year nearly 60,000 Central American youths have fled to the U.S. Authorities expect the number to reach 90,000 by the end of the year, and more are expected to be sent to Hawaii.