Tell Congress: Migrant children need legal counsel
Every year, in immigration courts across the country, children (from toddlers to teenagers) are representing themselves in front of judges for deportation and asylum cases. It sounds unbelievable, that our court system would expect a five-year-old child holding a doll for comfort to be solely responsible for defending him or herself against immigration charges, but that’s exactly how the current system operates.1
The “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016” could change that. The legislation, introduced last month by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with the support and co-sponsorship of many House Democrats, would ensure that children, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable individuals will have access to legal representation and a fair legal process when they are facing a life-or-death deportation decision.2 It is unacceptable that a country that prides itself on a system where everyone has the right to an attorney is systematically forcing children to navigate the complicated immigration court system alone.
*Tell Congress: Pass S 2540, the “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act” to give immigrant children and other vulnerable populations the right to legal counsel. *
Ninety percent of children without attorneys are ordered to be deported. Over the past two years, more than 112,000 families and unaccompanied children appeared without lawyers in their deportation proceedings. The majority of the unaccompanied migrant children entering and in the United States are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, countries that are experiencing levels of violence so severe that in January the U.S. State Department announced a new refugee program for asylum-seekers from that area. This program will be helpful in validating the extreme levels of danger that many of the migrant children and families are fleeing, but children and vulnerable populations will still be at risk for wrongful deportation if they don’t have the right to access legal counsel. 3
Asylum seekers who are represented by counsel are 12 times more likely to be granted asylum, and children with attorneys are five times more likely to be granted protection. The majority of children who are deported after representing themselves in court are not deported because they are in less dangerous circumstances, or are less deserving of asylum of protection. They are deported back to countries where their lives might literally be in danger because they are navigating one of the most complicated immigrant court systems in the world without even basic support. One of the bill co-sponsors, Rep. Luis Gutierrez said in a press release:
“We are talking about children running for their lives in many instances. We need to make sure they have a lawyer, a translator, and a fair chance to navigate the American legal system so that they get justice if they qualify for asylum or are facing deportation. It is literally the least we can do.”4
Children and other vulnerable populations deserve the same right to counsel and resources as any other person navigating an American court system. We all need to stand together now to support immigrant children and other vulnerable populations, and to force Congress to do the right thing.
Tell Congress: Pass S 2540, the “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act” to give immigrant children and other vulnerable populations the right to legal counsel.
Thank you for standing up for children.
1. Pamela Chan, “Will Immigrant Kids Finally Get A Fair Day In Court?” Generation Progress, Mar. 29, 2016.
2. Elise Foley, “Democratic Lawmakers Want Kids In Immigration Proceedings To Get a Fair Shot,” Huffington Post, Feb. 11, 2016.
3. “Reid Introduces Fair Day In Court Act To Protect Children Seeking Asylum,” Senator Harry Reid, Feb. 11, 2016.
4. “House Democrats introduce Fair Day in Court for Kids Act,” Congressman Gutiérrez, Feb. 11, 2016.