6-Year-Old ‘Lawyers’: Minors Face Immigration Court Without Legal Counsel

Published On: Donate

In yet another vivid example of the failings of the current immigration system, more and more young children who have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexican border by themselves are being forced to fend for themselves in court, as reported in Julia Preston’s August 25 New York Times article, “Young and Alone, and Fighting Deportation.”

Because legal counsel is not guaranteed in immigration court, many children who don’t understand multiplication, much less immigration law, are thrust into “representing” themselves. Thus, courtroom scenarios where six-year-olds have only themselves and a social worker to rely on have become commonplace.

So far this year, more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors have faced deportation charges. Because they are recent arrivals, they are not eligible for the deferred action program that began earlier this month. Even if they are attempting to reunite with family members in the United States, they may still be abandoned to the immigration system if others in the family are too scared to help defend them. Many children are left abandoned or cut off from their families and completely lacking in representation.  This is why LIRS emphasizes family unity in their call for comprehensive reform of the immigration system.  When it is not only parents being deported away from their children, but children being deported away from their parents, our immigration system is clearly broken.  That is why LIRS is calling for more flexibility in immigration law regarding the ability of immigration enforcement officials to keep families together.

According to the New York Times article, one 6-year-old named Lilliana “had a hard time following the hearing, even with an interpreter.”  She “did not understand that she had crossed an international boundary, or that she was now in the United States, or what the United States is exactly.” In another instance, a judge “tried to put a boy at ease by asking playfully to share a bit of the child’s lunch. Thinking that he was supposed to have brought food for the judge, the boy burst into tears.”  These stories are from  just two among many thousands of tales of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

Several organizations are trying to meet the dire need for representation for minors in immigration court, among them KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) and ProBAR (South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project). These groups provide pro bono legal assistance to such children, but the need is much greater than the help provided currently.  Both organizations have volunteer opportunities, especially for legal professionals, posted on their websites.

If you’re not an immigration lawyer, you can still make a huge difference for young immigrants and refugees facing the trials described in the New York Times article. You can find opportunities to volunteer and advocate for immigrant’s rights on the LIRS Stand for Welcome page.

Thank you for taking a Stand for Welcome!  

Image credit: Penubag

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