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Lawyers Helping Immigrant Kids In Kansas Try To Reunite With Their Families

Madeline Fox
Kansas News Service
The Villages' shelter on a nature preserve on the west outskirts of Topeka. Lawyers are volunteering to help children there in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement who were separated from their parents at the border.

A team of lawyers has volunteered to make sure immigrant children in Topeka separated from their parents have the legal help they need to reunite with their families.

Former U.S. attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said Monday he’s assembled team of at least 10 lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries volunteering help to immigrant children staying at The Villages, a shelter in Topeka that’s been taking in children separated from their parents when they crossed into the United States.

“I have grandchildren, and one of them just had her sixth birthday,” Grissom said. “The thought of being a 6-year-old ripped away from your parents, in limbo, with strangers who may or may not speak Spanish, I just can’t imagine.”

The Kansas Department for Children and Families inspected The Villages’ Topeka campus Friday afternoon. Agency staff spent a little more than an hour visiting all four group homes, the office and the outside areas of the facility. They also checked in on the kids, according to a DCF news release. DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel has a follow-up meeting scheduled with The Villages later this week. 

At the time of the inspection, there were 44 immigrant children there, nine reportedly separated from their parents at the border.

Immigrant children at The Villages are in the custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, and DCF has no direct oversight of The Villages’ contract with the federal government. 

However, The Villages’ Topeka and Lawrence campuses are licensed by the state as youth residential centers, facilities that provide mental health services and 24-hour supervision to kids ages 6 and older. That gives DCF authority to make sure the facility meets state standards.

DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said in a statement that the children at The Villages “are being provided excellent service.”

“From our visit, the children seem to be adjusting well, and are having their needs met,” she said.

Grissom said he and Ward will meet with DCF officials Wednesday morning to talk about legal representation for the immigrant kids. He said he wants to confirm that every child has an attorney who is “representing their (the child’s) best interest, and no one else’s.”

He said the attorneys’ first priority is children who have been separated from their parents, not children who were sent to The Villages after arriving in the country as unaccompanied minors, though “certainly we’re not leaving them out of the equation.”

He said he’s not sure yet whether he and the other lawyers will be working to help the children stay in the United States.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Grissom said. “Our first focus at this time, particularly for the younger children, is to make sure reunification (with family members) happens, and happens as quickly as possible.”

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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