‘Lost Boy’ finds life’s missing pieces

In between working three jobs, Chris Koor Garang, 30, takes his son Kyan, 5, to play soccer at Reid Park. “I’ll do anything for him to have a better life than I had,” he says. Photo by Perla Trevizo.

Chris Koor Garang dreamed for years of knowing his parents’ fate, of learning whether they were alive or dead.

His family had been split apart by the war in Sudan one violent night in 1989.

About a week into his first trip home in nearly two decades, he got a letter from his parents. They were alive and in a nearby village in southern Sudan. They wanted to see him right away.

But he couldn’t just leave. There were people who needed his medical care. A little girl had been bitten by a snake and had an infection all the way to her foot bone. A woman had been carried in on a stretcher — a two-day trip to the clinic — after a botched C-section performed by villagers.

He stayed three more days, finishing up what he had traveled about 9,000 miles to do, before climbing on board a pickup truck toward the town of Kwajok, where his parents were waiting.

When they finally saw each other, they clung tightly and didn’t want to let go. His father held his head and spat on it , giving him his blessing.

The family was reunited. But it was more complicated than that.

“When I saw them, I was happy. I was glad they were alive but I didn’t have that connection that somebody who stayed with their parents for so long could have,” says Garang, now 30.

“I grew up alone in the camp. I have my own life, my own family. My friends were my brothers,” he says. “It was just like, all right it’s great you guys are alive, now let’s see how life goes.”

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Garang, whose name Koor means lion in Dinka, comes from a cattle-herding tribe in what is now South Sudan, a landlocked country that gained its independence in 2011. It is smaller than Texas and has about 12 million people.

At the height of the conflict between the North and the South, militiamen on horseback and camels rode through his village in the middle of the night, burning everything along their path, raping women and kidnapping children to sell as slaves.

Garang and his brother ran in different directions, both naked and barefoot. There was no turning back.

At age 7, Garang became one of about 20,000 children, mostly young boys, who trekked in groups through swamps, deserts and across the Nile – a 1,000-mile, months-long journey to neighboring Ethiopia.

His brother, he later found, was killed that night.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Children from 6 countries become US citizens

At the end of the ceremony, the children waved their flags to a video of “God Bless the USA” by singer Lee Greenwood. Nine-year-old Ilagaba Shehe, from Burundi, is at center. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star.

Some of the children were fidgety, swinging their feet back and forth and playing with the miniature U.S. flag in one hand, while holding the program with the oath of allegiance to their new country in the other.

About 20 children from six countries received their naturalization certificates Thursday in a special ceremony held at Catalina Magnet High School commemorating World Refugee Day.

Serge Gboweiah, a 10-year-old from the Ivory Coast, was the first one to take the microphone. He took the opportunity to thank his parents for helping him become an American citizen, like them.

“My mom has told me that to become part of the U.S. country you have to become a U.S. citizen,” he said after the ceremony before rushing out of the auditorium to grab a piece of cake decorated with the American flag.

Some of the kids were adopted by U.S. citizen parents, while others derived citizenship when their immigrant parents became naturalized citizens.

As part of the celebration, guests were treated to dances from Nepalese, Congolese, Sudanese and Somali students who wore traditional dresses in blues, pinks and yellows. Two children also read poems about their dreams and their desire to help their homeland.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Agents doing what they can for immigrant kids

Two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match on a television in their holding area. For the first time since it opened more than two weeks ago, the media were allowed inside the Nogales Placement Center for a restricted tour Wednesday. Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Pool photo.

NOGALES, Ariz. — A little boy, no older than 8, pressed his forehead against the chain-link fence, crying, before a female Border Patrol agent stopped to ask what was wrong.

An older boy smiled and waved as a group of reporters walked by the intake area, where the concrete floor was hard to see because of all of the small green mattresses lying next to one another.

The media were allowed Wednesday inside the Nogales Placement Center on a restricted tour for the first time since it opened more than two weeks ago. Interaction with the children or staff was not allowed, to protect the identities of the children. Follow-up questions had to be sent via email, and few were answered by deadline.

There are currently 900 children, most from Central America, waiting to be sent to a shelter where officials will work to reunite them with their relatives across the country while their cases are pending.

The federal government is grappling with a sudden surge of children crossing the border without parents. More than 47,000 have been detained so far this fiscal year, and there are no shelters available.

The Nogales center — a building larger than two football fields — is a former warehouse the Border Patrol turned into a processing center for Mexican nationals in the early 2000s. It was not designed to hold children.

But in the beginning of June, agents started to transfer to Nogales some of the children being apprehended in South Texas because stations there were already overcrowded. Some of the children have been there for more than a week.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

What are CBP’s responsibilities towards unaccompanied migrant children?

The ACLU and four other civil and immigrant rights organizations filed a complaint Wednesday on behalf of 116 children who said they suffered abused and mistreatment while in custody of Customs and Border Protection.

The complaint released to the public said the abuse of immigrant children “persists in spite of prior litigation concerning the treatment of unaccompanied children,” in reference to the Flores Settlement Agreement.

In 1985, a class action lawsuit was filed against the then Immigration and Naturalization Service challenging the way it processed, apprehended and released children in custody.

Almost two decades ago, in 1997, a settlement was reached under which immigration officials are required to provide children:

(1) Access to food and drinking water.
(2) Medical assistance in the event of emergencies.
(3) Toilets and sinks.
(4) Adequate temperature control and ventilation.
(5) Adequate supervision to protect minors from others.
(6) Separation from unrelated adults whenever possible.

The Flores Agreement stipulates that unaccompanied minors in DHS custody be separated from unrelated adult detainees unless it is not immediately possible. When separation is impossible, a child’s detention with an unrelated adult will not exceed 24 hours.

It also requires that up-to-date records be maintained on minors placed in proceedings and remaining in custody for longer than 72 hours.

And under the agreement, meals must be offered to the unaccompanied child at least every six hours. The policy also requires that two of the meals served within the 24-hour period must be hot, and that juveniles must have regular access to snacks, milk and juice.

Many of the children included in this week’s complaint reported that officers had refused to give them sufficient water and that the food was not adequate, causing some of them to get sick.

A 2010 Office of Inspector General report found that CBP was in compliance with the general provisions of the Flores v. Reno Settlement Agreement, but still recommended that the agency: (1) evaluate its food-purchasing and contracting methods to ensure efficient use of resources; (2) ensure that detainees are informed of the safety of drinking water provided in hold rooms; (3) determine whether unaccompanied alien children are injured or require medical attention; (4) document medical care provided; (5) ensure that detention facilities maintain sufficient inventories of medical supplies; (6) ensure that toilets and sinks are routinely inspected and work properly; (7) verify that all required personnel complete the mandatory annual refresher training; and (8) accurately and consistently document required information pertaining to unaccompanied alien children.

Legal-service providers say the abuse of children while in custody and the violations of the settlement are systemic.

In May 2013, the National Immigrant Justice Center released a report in which it found that from 2008 to 2012, DHS detained more than 1,300 in adult facilities for periods ranging from three days to more than one year in violation of the Flores settlement.

Immigrant kids abused in CBP custody, groups say

More than 100 immigrant children experienced abuse and mistreatment while in custody, civil- and human-rights organizations said in a complaint against U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Examples included in the allegations made to the Department of Homeland Security said some children reported being molested by adults with whom they were detained. Others said they were exposed to a barrage of insults from officers as well as being accused of lying.

“We are coming forward now with more than 100 complaints, but we believe thousands of children have been subjected to these conditions,” said Joseph Anderson, director of litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice.

“Although the surge of unaccompanied exacerbates this problem,” he said during a telephone conference with reporters, “it predates this problem.”

The organizations, which include the American Civil Liberties Union Border Litigation Project and the Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, urged the federal government “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into each of these allegations,” which they say are part of systemic abuse of unaccompanied children by Customs and Border Protection.

The complaint includes cases of 116 children interviewed from March through May, who said they were abused or mistreated in some form by Customs and Border Protection officials.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Zoning rules could slow planned Tucson shelter for immigrant kids

The federal government plans to open a shelter in Tucson for unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border alone, but officials would have to seek zoning exemptions on the two locations being considered.

And that process could take months.

Southwest Key is seeking to turn a studio/apartment complex on North Oracle Road, north of downtown, or a southeast Tucson hotel into a shelter for children who are crossing the border illegally without parents or legal guardians, city and county documents show.

Last week, the city of Tucson gave the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit the permit to start interior renovations. But Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents Ward 6, said the certificate of occupancy will be denied because it’s within 500 feet of a residential area.

The group can seek an exemption with the zoning examiner, but he said, that would take several months. That’s time federal government doesn’t have.

Part of the issue is that the exemption requires a 30-day notice to residents of the surrounding neighborhood so they can voice their opinion. If the exemption is denied, Southwest Key can appeal.

City officials would not comment on Tuesday. However, they confirmed officials from the city’s planning and development services department met with Southwest Key representatives on Tuesday.

Pima County officials have said the organization would also have to go to the Board of Supervisors for a “modification of a rezoning condition” because the hotel had been previously approved for an assisted-living facility.

Southwest Key spokeswoman Cindy Casares referred questions to the Administration for Children and Families’ Office, which didn’t return a request for comment Tuesday.

The federal government is scrambling to deal with a surge of children and youth crossing the border illegally, mainly through South Texas, which is expected to climb to 90,000 this year.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Officials give Nogales shelter for immigrant children high marks

The children being held in the Nogales Border Patrol station seem to be in good physical health, officials who visited the center said Tuesday.

“I was very impressed with the progress they’ve made,” said Santa Cruz Sheriff Tony Estrada. “They are taking good care of these kids.”

Nearly 1,100 children and youth who crossed the border illegally without parents or legal guardians are being held in a makeshift detention center in Nogales. Estrada said about 60 percent of them are males. Most of them are in the 15-17 age range, but there are some as young as four and teen mothers with their babies.

About 82 percent of them were apprehended by the Border Patrol in South Texas — a region that has seen the largest influx of children — and the rest from Arizona.

So far, more than 100 of the children have been transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement-contracted shelter, where officials seek to reunite them with relatives or parents already in the United States while their immigration cases are pending.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.