NJ Sponsors House Unaccompanied Child Immigrants

By Brenda Flanagan

Even while Martha Cordero sells pastries in the family bakery in Belleville, she agonizes over current news reports: kids — alone and undocumented — crossing the U.S. border from Central America. She remembers 14 years ago when Guatemalan gangs shot down her father, the town mayor. When they murdered her brother, too, Martha and her mom ran away to New Jersey.

“I thank god because this is a beautiful place to live. There’s no justice in Guatemala,” she said.

Martha visited Guatemala with her church just two weeks ago. She says gangs shoot victims and just leave them.

“Dying over there in the street,” she said.

Of the 30,000 unaccompanied kids picked up by Border Patrol since January, federal officials sent about 1,500 to stay with sponsors in New Jersey. They don’t get special subsidies, but these kids may stretch local resources like schools.

“I have to have peace of mind. As long as they’re with somebody I think I trust they’re safe,” said Belleville resident Nasrim Alberto.

Martha says New Jersey should welcome these kids, who are fleeing almost indescribable violence. Once they arrive, most of them stay with family members, according to an immigration attorney. Then they get a court date.

“It is completely illogical,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

At a Republican governors’ conference this week, Gov. Christie argued that family sponsors who pledge they’ll bring these kids to court may themselves be undocumented. The feds don’t ask.

“If you are gonna try to ensure someone gets to their immigration hearing, you might want to send them to someone who actually has complied with the immigration laws,” he said.

We asked sponsor Caryn Maxim about it. She’s in Guatemala right now.

“I don’t think that Mr. Christie has spent enough time understanding the issue,” she said.

Maxim has already sponsored two kids.

“I know a lot of families who have taken responsibility for family members. Although I won’t tell you that all of them comply, I know factually that a great many of them are very conscientious about putting their kids into the process,” she said.

“Kids are kids,” said Ellissa Steglich.

Steglich’s non-profit has represented a couple hundred kids before immigration judges.

“And when you go to court and have — as I had a couple of years ago — a 6-year-old by my side, sitting in an oversized chair, unable to even really peer above the table to see the judge, you realize the incongruity of it all,” she said.

Martha and her mom did go to immigration court. They’re now American citizens.