Giving Voice to Unaccompanied Children in Removal Proceedings
22 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2014 Last revised: 30 Oct 2014
Date Written: May 13, 2014
In the last century, hundreds of thousands of children have migrated alone to the United States. Others migrated with adults but became separated after their arrival. The reasons for their migration vary, but in many cases, war, poverty, and violence compel these children to seek refuge within our nation’s borders, often without their families. Throughout their journey on both sides of the border, these children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, abuse, and exploitation. In the United States, many are eventually apprehended, classified as an “unaccompanied alien child,” and prosecuted for violating immigration laws. Their prosecution leads the children into a confusing and complex legal labyrinth that even most lawyers do not understand. Alone and confused, most of the children who enter the system are ordered to return to the brutal conditions that compelled their migration in the first place, even though as many as forty percent of these children could have qualified for an exemption to deportation. This essay argues that it is time to give voice to all unaccompanied children caught in the labyrinth of America’s immigration system, regardless of their national origin and the nature of the legal proceeding. Meaningful legislative reform must be accomplished to mandate the appointment of both government-funded legal counsel and personal representatives to represent unaccompanied children, most urgently those in removal proceedings, so that their stories can be told and their voices can be heard.
Keywords: immigration, juvenile law, legal representation, children's rights
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