Unaccompanied Minors Face Legal Challenges, Few Have Counsel

Over 60,000 minors have arrived from other countries without adult chaperons. These children must have their cases for asylum heard before an immigration judge. However, more than half of the children have not been given lawyers to try advocate for them. Children without lawyers fare worse before immigration judges than do the children that are represented.

Over 60,000 minors have arrived in the United States from other countries. However, only about 33% of the minors that have arrived have been given lawyers according to researchers. Of children who were given attorneys, 70% were granted asylum in the United States. Of the children who were not granted asylum, only 10% were given an attorney. Children who can not stay in the United States must return to their home countries where they face an uncertain and violent future.

Children Arrive Seeking Safety

Most of the unaccompanied minors have arrived from Central American counties like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. According to records obtained, more than 90% of the children applying for asylum are from these three countries. Children that are not granted asylum face a number challenges if forced to return including violence and other dangers. Nevertheless, more than 10,000 children have been sent back over the past few years.

Immigration Law Is Complex

Immigration law advocated concede that the law is indeed complex. This creates a huge problem for those children that are not able to obtain legal representation. Immigration lawyer Laura Lichter, who is based in Colorado, discussed the cruelty and absurdity of forcing a child to go through the asylum process on his or her own. She feels that the children she’s talked to from Central America “All have serious asylum claims.” Other advocates are quick to point out that the data shows that children who are not given a lawyer face bleak outcome to their immigration asylum case than those who are given lawyers. This situation, according to experts, means that those who ma be entitled to some sort of protection face the very real possibility of being sent back into violent situations.

The Obama Administration Reacts

Since the number of migrants has increased during the summer months, the Obama administration has taken some steps to address the situation. One step that has been taken is to hire more judges that specialize in immigration law. The administration has also pushed the judges to streamline the hearing process for asylum which means that more cases can be heard. Some funding has been obtained by the Department of Justice in order to hire more attorneys to represent children that arrive unaccompanied.

Protecting Refugee Rights Requires Representation

Human rights activists claim that protecting refugee rights means that unaccompanied children definitely need legal representation. Because funding is limited, several groups are working to recruit pro bono attorneys who will represent minors. However, it is difficult to find the number of attorneys necessary to assist with cases. In August of 2014 alone, the number of immigration cases heard in court was roughly the same as the number of cases that had been heard in court during the prior year. Immigration lawyers claim that September and October numbers continued along the same trend and predict that numbers will continue to increase in the future.

The Increase In Immigration Cases Continues

In the past few years, over 20,000 cases have been heard that deal with immigration of minor children. Less than half of the children over the years actually had lawyers. Case loads are predicted to double each year but this is not the case with attorneys. In fact, the number of children with attorneys has shrunk over the years. This past year, less than 22% of children were given lawyers; the previous year, almost 50% of the children in immigration cases had been given lawyers. Year after year, statistics show that 9 out of every 10 children without lawyers are sent back to their country of origin.

The Problem Is Difficult To Comprehend

Attorneys say that the asylum issue can be difficult to explain to the general public because child immigration doesn’t fit into the standard immigration pattern. Unaccompanied minors are not seeking to immigrate to a country for economic reasons. Rather, they are leaving their country of origin because it’s not safe to be in that country. Children who are not given the opportunity to remain here will be forced to return to their home country to deal with the violence that brought them to seek asylum in the first place. Because of these factors, some experts feel that the current crisis should be define as a refugee issue, not an immigration issue.

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