Tens of thousands of immigrant children are entering the country on their own, and Laura Ferner is seeing an increase in asylum seekers.
Northwest Arkansas does not have a holding facility, but many children are being released to family members already living here, and Ferner & Benham Attorneys at Law is fighting to keep them from being deported.
"I've seen a huge influx," Ferner says. "Starting in 2008, I would see maybe 2 or 3 per year, and now I'm about 20 to 25 new kids... each year."
Ferner just finished an initial hearing for a Salvadorean teen who crossed the border in May.
"We just did it over the phone, because the court is in Memphis," she says. "She came here with her sister, however her sister had just turned 18, so when they were apprehended at the border, they were separated from each other."
The older sister has already been deported, but the other girl was released to her mother, who lives in Northwest Arkansas. Ferner's Springdale firm focuses on deportation defense, and family or employment based immigration law. She says the children are fleeing Central America for a reason, and it isn't deferred action.
"Everybody's scared," she says. "Women are being treated horribly, and so are children... I've seen children with bullet wounds in their stomachs."
She's asking for asylum for her new client, and expects more kids to arrive here in search of the same thing.
"We have a fairly large immigrant population here in Northwest Arkansas," she says. "I would think that there are more children going to be released into their families."
Asylum seekers must prove they left their own country because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or because they belong to a certain social group.
"You have to meet a high threshold to show that you fear persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds," Ferner says. "If you can't show that persecution, or what you suffered in your home country was because of that... you're not going to win your case."
Ferner says some of her clients have won asylum, and the kids are thriving here.
"They are on their way to being honor students and that's just wonderful to see," she says. "While they go through horrible things, children are also extremely resilient... That always amazes me, how they have the ability, when given the opportunity, to come back and actually live a great life."
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