Unaccompanied minor immigrant children face U.S. immigration courts without adult representatives, without legal counsel, and without the opportunity to have fair court proceedings. Many unaccompanied minors are teenagers but are also as young as toddler-age. Children end up in the U.S. for several reasons. Some left abusive homes and families in Central America and Asia where systems failed them. Others are separated from families coming to the U.S. seeking protection and better opportunities. Most of the children are traumatized by their circumstances and navigating complex immigration law is a hopeless challenge for many.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote in her recent editorial published in the LA Times, that “According to the Esperanza Immigration Rights Project, about 145 unaccompanied minors are released each month from federal child detention centers. Once released they are unlikely to have access to legal representation or advocates.[i]” Lawyers in immigration courts frequently see children in court. In an April 2013 video interview featuring immigration lawyers and policy leaders, one of whom mentions a judge getting angry with a child for coming to court alone without a guardian and the child mentioning their guardian being undocumented and fearing deportation, hence sending the child to court alone.
Some of the immigrant children in the U.S. are DREAMers, seeking immigration relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program while Congress continues debating comprehensive immigration reform, including the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (“DREAM”) Act.[iii] While working hard and staying out of trouble many still end up in the immigration court system without the benefit of legal counsel or advocates. When children represent themselves in court without a lawyer or understanding of complex immigration law, they could easily jeopardize any current or future legal immigration status. Who will represent these children?
Immigration cases can take hundreds of hours of time and the number of volunteer attorneys and organizations are limited. One pro bono organization called KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), founded by Angelina Jolie and Microsoft Corporation. “KIND serves as the leading organization for the protection of unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone and strives to ensure that no such child appears in immigration court without representation. We achieve fundamental fairness through high-quality legal representation and by advancing the child’s best interests, safety, and well-being.[iv]”
While organizations like KIND do what they can to help children in crisis today, Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform providing proper counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children as a humanitarian objective. Senator Feinstein, in the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill, “included an amendment to establish basic standards for children in the custody of Customs and Boarder Protection, including the provision of nutrition, clothing and shoes, personal hygiene and sanitary products, and mental health and emergency care services.[v]”
While waiting for urgently needed reform, children and their relatives stay in the U.S. at their peril. Immigration attorneys help them apply for temporary legal status. Attorney KiKi M. Mosley is licensed to practice law by the State of Illinois and Louisiana. She is skilled and experienced in complex immigration law issues including applications for temporary immigration relief and adjustments of immigration status. For more information about the law firm, please visit www.KiKisLaw.com, and do not forget to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” on Twitter. You can also review Attorney Mosley’s endorsements on her Avvo profile.
[v] See Sen. Feinstein article cited FNi.