Approximately half of all unaccompanied children are not represented during immigration court proceedings
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), along with Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which would require unaccompanied children and vulnerable individuals to be provided with legal assistance during immigration court proceedings. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a majority of recently-arrived unaccompanied children are eligible for legal protection that would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States, yet children who cannot afford to hire an attorney or find pro bono legal counsel are currently forced to navigate our nation’s complex immigration system on their own.
“Clearly, small children, especially those without families, should not be expected to represent themselves in complicated legal proceedings, it is a basic matter of fairness and due process,” said Senator Murray. “This is about making sure that vulnerable individuals get help after escaping violence and abuse in their home countries, which is why I strongly support providing education and legal assistance to those who need it most.”
Nine out of ten children without attorneys are ordered deported, often forced to return to some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Whereas children with legal representation are five times more likely to be granted protection under U.S. law.
This bill would:
· Require the government to appoint counsel to unaccompanied children, and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities and victims of abuse, torture, or violence.
· Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants.
· Create a case management pilot project to increase court appearance rates.
· Require DHS to submit reports to Congress on the number of individuals identified in the Act who were represented by counsel and the number of individuals who received legal orientation presentations.
Since 2013, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border of the United States, demonstrating a humanitarian crisis of tremendous proportion in Central America. These are children, women, and families fleeing their home countries in search of safety. While the United States must help to alleviate this crisis at the source, we must also do more to protect those who reach our borders seeking asylum.