On KELOLAND News at Six Thursday night, local immigration lawyer Taneeza Islam said there are five or six known cases of parents now in South Dakota who were separated from their children at the border as a result of what’s known as the “zero tolerance” policy. This policy began in 2018, but as Islam says, this international story which very much involves KELOLAND did not start this year.

“I think it’s really important to understand that this crisis has been going on since most recently 2013,” Islam said.

Unaccompanied kids fled violence in Central American countries.

“If they identify someone that they know, and this is called a sponsor, the sponsor goes through an intense background check, and if they pass that background check, the child is shipped to live with them, again, until their immigration court hearing date, because these children are in deportation proceedings, because they’re unlawfully present,” Islam said. “So that’s how we know, through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who tracks where these kids are placed in sponsorship, that there are 284 unaccompanied minors since 2014 who have been released to a sponsor in South Dakota.”

Islam believes the current number is similar.

“We know kids are transient, right?” Islam said. “We know that we have cases where we have kids who have been released to let’s say Nevada, who are now in South Dakota, so they’ve come in, there’s kind of a flow of how these kids are moving around, but the prediction is there will be even more kids now because of the zero tolerance policy and the surge of what I call refugees because these folks are really fleeing devastating danger, violence, poverty.” 

She says that these kids are all across South Dakota. The kids, Islam says, should be with their sponsor.

“They’ve been released to a sponsor, right, so the sponsor’s responsibility is to keep them out of trouble,” Islam said. “All of, all kids in elementary, junior high, and high school, regardless of immigration status, are, have a right to public education, so most of these kids are in school, and then their other responsibility is to make sure they show up in immigration court.”

But immigration court isn’t here.

“Immigration court for our state, our region, actually, is in Minneapolis,” Islam said. “So you can imagine that there are a lot of hurdles for these kids to get to immigration court in and of itself.” 

She says the crisis continues.

“The minors are coming on their own still,” Islam said. “That just hasn’t been focused on. The focus has been on families separated because that was the change in the policy. So minors are still fleeing on their own, coming to the border, and doing that process, and they will be continue to be released to sponsors in South Dakota if identified. So that crisis is still ongoing.”