Advocates Call for Court-Appointed Attorneys for Immigrant Children and Teens

Advocates Call for Court-Appointed Attorneys for Immigrant Children and Teens

"Two immigrant advocacy groups recommended this morning that minors in immigration court be appointed government attorneys and that asylum regulations be liberalized to cover the special needs of migrant minors who come into the U.S. unlawfully without a parent or guardian.

The recommendations come as rising numbers of immigrants from Central America and Mexico flee violence and enter through the Texas border. Last fiscal year, nearly 40,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended. Three-fourths of those were caught in Texas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Several groups estimate the numbers could hit about 74,000 this year — a ten-fold increase in just a few years.

The recommendations come in a thick report called “Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System” from Kids In Need of Defense, or KIND, a D.C.-based group that advocates for immigrant teen-agers and children, and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at U.C. San Francisco’s law school.

The U.S. is facing “a largely hidden but incredibly urgent” child crisis, said Wendy Young, KIND president, in a teleconference this morning at the Migration Policy Institute in D.C.

“With no right to government-appointed counsel or child advocate, unaccompanied children are forced to wade through a highly complex system without anyone to defend their legal interests or advocate for their best interests as children,” read the report. “Children further experience difficulties in the immigration system due to the adversarial nature of removal proceedings designed for adults and insufficient training of immigration judges and [U.S. Customs and Immigration Service] adjudicators on child development and related issues.

…In short, the U.S. immigration system fails vulnerable immigrant children and violates our domestic and international obligations to them.”

The groups called on Congress to enact legislation mandating the appointment of legal counsel by the U.S. Attorney General for unaccompanied children in removal proceedings.

The groups also asked that Congress enact legislation requiring that the “best interests of the child” shall be a “primary consideration in all procedures, actions and decision by a federal agency or court.” They also recommended that an independent child advocate be appointed for the children as soon as they are identified, excluding those that take what’s known as “voluntary return” by immigration authorities. And they called for more transparency over all processes with a release of statistical data on the minors." - Dianne Solís, Feb. 27, 2014.