Sponsor a child

U.S. border unaccompanied minors bring hopes and challenges to Worthington

CATHY WURZER: Much attention has been given to the undocumented migrants that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent from Florida to Massachusetts last month. Here in Minnesota, far less attention has been paid to the approximately 130 unaccompanied migrant children who have been referred this year alone by immigration authorities from the U.S. southern border to Nobles County, southwestern Minnesota.

Erin Schutte Wadzinski is currently the only immigration attorney in southwestern Minnesota and has been busy connecting minors with resources to legally settle in Minnesota. Schutte Wadzinski of the law firm Kivu Law serves Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa, and Erin is online right now. Welcome to the program.

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: Thank you, Cathy. Good afternoon.

CATHY WURZER: Hello. Thanks a lot. Tell us how children who crossed the southern US border alone get to Minnesota. What is the process?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: Often when children cross the border, they immediately come into contact with border officials. The children are then placed in police custody and are subject to removal proceedings before the immigration court through the Ministry of Justice. But while the children await their day in court and are in government custody, they remain in a children’s shelter overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is unique compared to what happens when adults come into contact with border patrol.

But because of the backlog of cases, it sometimes takes these children years to spend their day in court. And if a child has a family member in the United States who is willing to serve as their sponsor, then that adult in the United States can receive the child out of the children’s shelter, and the child will be placed in the home. of the sponsor in the United States. So Worthington, or Nobles County, gets a lot of these kids just because that’s where their sponsors live.

CATHY WURZER: Over 130 unaccompanied minors, that’s something I’m sure Hennepin and Ramsey counties could see. But damn it, Nobles County is so much smaller. So how does the county handle this?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: And Nobles County is a county of 21,000 people. Worthington comprises the majority of Nobles County residents. And our region feels the presence of these unaccompanied children more than in metropolitan areas simply because it is a significant per capita gain. And our region is working diligently and must work with a number of entities in our region to try to provide the necessary resources to ensure that these children have safety, security and an educational opportunity.

CATHY WURZER: I was going to say, are they in the education system?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: The majority are, if I understand correctly. One of the responsibilities of a sponsor is to ensure that the child is enrolled in school and receives an education until at least the age of 18.

CATHY WURZER: I know there’s solicitor-client privilege, but generally speaking, maybe tell us about some of the young people you work with. Who are they?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: I work with many young people from Central America. There is a large group of native Guatemalans that I had the pleasure of knowing. And something unique about native migrants is that Spanish is not their first language. And we work with interpreters who speak indigenous languages ​​to be able to communicate with these young people who often do not have access to an education in their country of origin.

They fled violence, fled danger and are in the United States. And for many of them, this is their first chance to go to school. A young woman told me the other day that she was working very hard to learn English because then she would be trilingual and could one day be an interpreter. And it warmed my heart because this is just one example of such a great need in our region as our region becomes more and more diverse.

CATHY WURZER: How well are schools in the county meeting the needs of these migrant children, especially in terms of education? And I asked this question because I understand that you put children with English teachers in school?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: One of the questions I ask any young person who comes into my office is: are you enrolled in school? And if they are not, we will offer them to register. And that’s just picking up the phone and making sure they understand the process to figure out how they can get to school and register.

Our schools in our counties are working extremely diligently to provide the services and resources that unaccompanied children need. There are certainly challenges. I mentioned language as a barrier. But we’re a small town, and I think we really strive to create that welcoming atmosphere for everyone.

CATHY WURZER: Because your area of ​​the state is taking in more and more immigrants — you seem to have a ton of work yourself in Worthington — why aren’t there more lawyers who specialize in immigration? immigration who help, who support some of this work?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: You’re right, I keep very, very busy. Representing unaccompanied children is very complex, assessing their situation to see what type of application is best for them and determining whether or not that application should go to immigration court or if it can go to citizenship and ID services. immigration from the United States. Special juvenile immigrant status is a common case type for these young people. And special juvenile immigrant status is for children under 21 who are unmarried and who have been neglected, abused or abandoned by one or both parents.

But for the child to navigate this process toward special juvenile immigrant status, they need an attorney who can practice state and federal law. And this is where there is a connection between family law in state courts and immigration law in federal courts. It’s complex.

And not everyone is up to it, especially in this region which already lacks avocados. Lawyers who know a set of laws seem to be quite busy in that set of laws. And I’m currently looking for a lawyer to join my firm just to try and keep up with the demand in this area.

CATHY WURZER: Listening to you, I’m wondering — it’s, as you say, very complex and complicated work, and these kids, I’m sure, it’s a whole new environment for them, even s they have a godfather here. In due time, are they reunited with their families?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: Sometimes unaccompanied children are reunited with family members who are already in the United States. Sponsors are often family members. Sponsors can be parents, adult siblings, aunts and uncles. And the government goes through a very rigorous vetting process to make sure the sponsor is who they claim to be in terms of their biological relationship. But one of the main purposes of releasing children from a children’s shelter is, in fact, to reunite them with their families.

CATHY WURZER: Okay. So before you go, I’m curious, what’s the one thing you tell young migrant kids what they need to know about living in Minnesota?

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: Work hard, stay out of trouble, and chase your dreams. And that’s advice that I give to all kids and would give to kids no matter where I am. But one thing about these kids is that they are so brave and brave. Just another handy piece of advice I would give someone new to Minnesota is to remember to get a winter coat.

CATHY WURZER: Always great advice to anyone new. Erin, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much and thank you for your work.

ERIN SCHUTTE WADZINSKI: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Erin Schutte Wadzinski is a southwestern Minnesota immigration attorney working in Worthington. His law firm is Kivu, Kivu Law serving Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa.

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