An illegal immigrant's long journey through the legal system

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Sixteen-year-old Danilo, who was afraid to give us his last name, says Honduran gangs first tried to recruit him when he was 12.

"They were involved in murders, drug dealing and assaults," he says.

At 15, he fled for the U.S. and was caught at the Texas border.

"I didn't want to join the gangs. I didn't want that violent kind of life or trouble."

Under a law signed by President George W. Bush, unaccompanied children cannot be deported without a hearing.

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Danilo was released to a cousin in New York. He's seeking asylum and has been given a lawyer free of charge from the non-profit Central American Legal Assistance. Rebecca Press is an immigration attorney there.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that we are being very careful and having an individualized assessment of every individual's claim," says Press.

Illegal immigrants in the U.S. are not entitled to a government appointed lawyer in deportation proceedings. However, according to a nonpartisan policy institute study, at least 40 percent of children who are here illegally may be eligible to stay, if facing specific kinds of violence or abuse back home.

Minors with legal assistance significantly improve the odds of winning their case. But the process can take years. Danilo's first deportation hearing was nine months ago.

Press say, "Deporting young people, people under the age of 18, who are fleeing tremendous violence in their home countries, is not an appropriate response to a humanitarian crisis."

"The problems I have at home cannot be solved over there. I didn't come here looking for any problems. I came here to remake my life," says Danilo.

Danilo's next hearing is in the Fall, and he says, he worries everyday about the possibility of deportation.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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