OMAHA, Neb.—In an office building near Omaha’s airport, stern-faced, gray-haired immigration judge Jack Anderson presides over removal hearings in a courtroom filled with juveniles, most of them from Central America, all of them hoping to be allowed to stay in the United States.
Josue, 13, sits in the front row with his mother and two young sisters and three friends of the family. At first glance, he looks like any other American teenager in his neon yellow Adidas T-shirt, tan pants and Nike high-tops.
But this building belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And, according to the government, Josue and the other teenagers in the courtroom are foreign-born children charged with violating immigration law.
They’re at the mercy of the Omaha Immigration Court, where a judge eventually will decide whether they can stay or be deported.
Anderson goes through case after case: Juan of Guatemala is living with his uncle in Schuyler, Neb. His attorney said he’s seeking SIJ status—Special Immigrant Juveniles, a program through which foreign children who’ve been abused, neglected or abandoned can get green cards and work in the U.S. permanently. Another hearing is scheduled for Juan later this year.
Next up is Edgar, 18, from El Salvador but now living with his uncle in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s also seeking SIJ status. His case was postponed to October.
Then comes Benedicto, 18, of Guatemala. His case is also postponed until October.
As the children go before the judge, Josue’s mother periodically looks over at her son and smiles. The four young girls with them get antsy as the hearings drag.
Finally, Josue has his turn. He walked across the southern border through Texas two months ago. His attorney says Josue is asking that his case be consolidated with his mother’s asylum case. The attorney for the government searches for her case number. The attorney asks for a continuance until September. It’s granted.
Josue’s hearing takes all of about 10 minutes—just another routine case for the judge, the translator and the government attorney. But to Josue, it’s anything but routine.