Young, Illegal, and Alone

Their parents sent them to the United States to escape brutal violence. But to stay, they need to convince courts that sending them here constituted child abuse.
Feature (NATIONAL)

J. Weston Phippen
Atlantic, The
October 15, 2015

Tags: Immigration Process

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia), Public Counsel (Los Angeles)


These unaccompanied minors overwhelmed an immigration system ill-equipped to handle them. They came to the United States to escape violence, but they rarely qualify as refugees: Children aren’t an ethnic group, and gangs aren’t granted the same recognition as invading armies. The U.S. does not provide these children lawyers, and that means most will be deported to the countries they fled. Unless, that is, they find someone willing, and with the knowledge, to help.

In July of this year, Nick Marritz, a 33-year-old attorney, drove through Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains to the Omni Homestead Resort, a southern monstrosity that looks more like a college campus with a wraparound porch than a hotel in operation since 10 years before the country’s founding. Marritz has a round face and a stubbly beard.

He always appears to have just mainlined his seventh coffee. Lately, he’s grown even more frantic as his own caseload rises above 100, and the government deports more unaccompanied minors. “The government is trying to deport them as fast as it can,” Marritz says. “They’re putting them at the front of the line.”