North Carolina residents may be aware that the living conditions of over 10,000 immigrant children being held in federal custody at the U.S.-Mexico border have become the source of multiple lawsuits in recent weeks. According to these cases, the bad conditions in which these children are confined are used as a way to punish immigrant families in order to deter them from entering the country. The lawsuits further claim the goal of the federal government is to deter immigration in general.

Federal law requires that these children are to be held in the ‘least restrictive setting available,” but attorneys for the kids and their families argue that is not the case. One of the major issues is the prosecution of potential sponsors of the children, who are also not in the country legally. According to the lawyers involved in the suit, hundreds of family members have appeared at Department of Health and Human Services facilities to take custody of a child only to be arrested themselves by ICE.

Unsurprisingly, these arrests have had a chilling effect on willing sponsors for these children. Many of these young immigrants have been stuck in detention facilities for months. More have been there nearly a year.

An internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security made it clear that this outcome was the intent of ICE and the DHS. The memo states that this strategy would have a deterrent effect on family members bringing children into the country illegally. Others see it differently. A deputy director of the Southern Poverty Law Center describes arresting potential sponsors as effectively using the immigrant children as bait.

While this ongoing drama centers around the border, immigration issues persist across North Carolina and the rest of the United States. The families of children being detained in the circumstances described above may benefit from meeting with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss their options.