Manhattan immigration court remains closed due to pandemic amid backlog of cases
There are currently more than 18,000 immigrant children in federal custody, and while the issue feels a world away, this story has big connections to the Hudson Valley.
A teen who News 12 is identifying as "Juan" to protect his identity fled violence in his home country of Guatemala in 2017. He landed in Westchester County with his mom and two siblings.
"I scared to come because we passing through Mexico, they say it's a lot of gangs there and maybe they kill you, they do bad stuff..," says the now 16-year-old.
He says "bad stuff" included his mother being severely beaten and threatened by his father with a machete, while police allegedly looked the other way. Juan is also at the age gangs give boys an ultimatum to join or else.
"If you don't want to do that, they kill your family or they kill someone that is like close to you," he says.
Bertha Rodriguez is an attorney with more than 1,000 cases like Juan's in Westchester County, where the Migration Policy Institute estimates 61,000 people are undocumented.
"There is not enough lawyers to do this," says Rodriguez.
Their work helps people like Juan get approved for a special immigrant juvenile visa.
Thousands more are backlogged as an immigration court in Manhattan is closed due to the pandemic.
"We just want a normal life, we just want peace," he says.
There are efforts to help immigrant teens like Juan, including by the Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration, which is hosting an informational Zoom meeting for the public in June.