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1-Year-Old Shows Up In Immigration Court

His name is Johan.

He drank a bottle of milk and played with a purple ball as he waited for the immigration judge, The Associated Press reported.

John W. Richardson, the judge at the Phoenix courthouse, said he was "embarrassed to ask" if the defendant understood the proceedings. "I don't know who you would explain it to, unless you think that a 1-year-old could learn immigration law," he told Johan's attorney.

The boy had been separated from his father, who left the United States for their country of Honduras under the impression that his son would go with him, Johan's lawyer said.

Johan is one of several immigrant children who have had to appear in court without their parents present.

Among the defendants were a Guatemalan boy dressed in a vest and tie who "simply put five fingers up" when asked his age, and an acquiescent 7-year-old girl in a pink bow and dress, the AP reported.

The clock is ticking for the Trump administration to reunify children who were separated from their parents near the southern border. U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw set a deadline of July 10 for children under the age of 5. For older children, it's July 26.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that government personnel are using DNA samples to verify family relations. Some parents are also being moved closer to their children in an attempt to meet the deadline, Azar said according to Reuters.

Still, the Trump administration has asked the judge for more time, while saying it is working "diligently" and with "immense resources" to comply. It also announced that it extended the period of time for which migrant families can be detained.

Undocumented children are not guaranteed court-appointed lawyers. A panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled earlier this year that "it is not established law that alien minors are categorically entitled to government-funded, court-appointed counsel."

That means they have "almost no chance" of winning a complicated asylum case, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. "They are allowed to remain here less than 10 percent of the time."

The hearing in Phoenix comes after nationwide protests of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. In Boston, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished and replaced "with something that reflects our morality."

Vice President Pence defended the law enforcement agency on Friday through Twitter. "Calls to abolish ICE are not just outrageous – they are irresponsible. Abolishing ICE would mean more illegal immigration... Abolishing ICE would mean more violent crime..."

In a separate incident last month, an immigration lawyer in Kansas City accused an ICE officer of shoving her into the ground as she was reuniting a 3-year-old boy with a family member.

"He turned around and pushed us out the door and shut the door and locked it," she said at a press conference according to The Kansas City Star. "That's when... I fell and I rolled my ankle and caused the fracture in my right foot."

"We take any allegations against ICE personnel very seriously and are looking into the matter," ICE said in a statement.

Young Johan, at the end of the hearing, was handed a voluntary departure order so that he can be flown to Honduras and into the arms of his family.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sasha Ingber is a reporter on NPR's breaking news desk, where she covers national and international affairs of the day.

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