There is an acute need for legal representation of unaccompanied immigrant minors, who have no family members or guardians to offer them protection. They have no knowledge of the law and the legal process, and the English language. In addition, they do not have the benefit of counsel appointed by the Immigration Court, as is the case in other courts.
If a child has been abused, abandoned, neglected, persecuted, or has been the victim of human trafficking, or a crime, that child may be eligible for relief from removal to their home country, and may be able to remain in the U.S. Eligibility can also arise due to a relative’s legal status. However, they are more likely to be successful in their petition for relief from removal if they are represented by an attorney in immigration proceedings.
There is a national nonprofit called Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) that finds attorneys to represent immigrant minors on a pro bono basis. The volunteer attorneys are well prepared for the task of representing unaccompanied minors in Immigration Court because KIND engages in recruiting, training, matching, and mentoring of the attorneys.
According to KIND, each year, there are thousands of children who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or guardian, and who have no representation in immigration proceedings. Although they may be eligible for, and in need of, U.S. protection, they are often removed to their home countries, where their lives may be in great peril.
Furthermore, the federal government has taken steps to provide funding for legal aid to benefit unaccompanied immigrant children. In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is expending $4 million on attorneys to represent unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings. This marks the first time that the office that supervises programs for unaccompanied immigrant children will give funds for legal counsel.
Furthermore, the federal government has made grants to two organizations that are included in a larger $9 million project that has as its objective the provision of attorneys for 2,600 children. The grants were made in response to a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied Central American children who arrived at the border of the U.S. and Mexico this year; the number was in excess of twice the amount last year. Several of the children were trying to escape violence in their home country.
Almost 60,000 unaccompanied immigrant children arrived at the border this year, and the majority of them do not have attorneys. They are detained by federal authorities, after which they are put in shelters that are under the supervision of the Department of Health & Human Services. They remain in the shelters until they are allowed to be under the care of a relative or sponsor in the U.S. They are then told to appear in Immigration Court on a certain date on which deportation proceedings are held.
Advocates for immigrants have been increasing their efforts to recruit attorneys to represent the unaccompanied immigrant minors. Having an attorney can mean the difference between being allowed to remain in the U.S., and being removed to your home country, where you will almost certainly face a life of danger and far fewer opportunities. Among those children who were represented by counsel, nearly half were permitted to remain in the U.S., but among those who had no attorneys, only 10% were allowed to remain in the U.S.
If you would like to become a volunteer attorney for unaccompanied immigrant children, visit this website for more information: http://www.supportkind.org/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.