Minor Protections: Best Practices for Representing Child Migrants
55 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2017
Date Written: June 2017
In recent years, the number of Central American children fleeing violence and seeking protection in the United States has surged, and these children’s cases have flooded the immigration courts. Children are treated virtually the same as adults in immigration court, and, because they are not provided government-appointed counsel, many must defend themselves from deportation pro se. In 2014, 80% of children — roughly 34,130 — were unrepresented, and this lack of representation often has profound consequences: many of these children are eligible for protection from deportation, but, without access to attorneys, most will be deported anyway. Governments, nonprofits, and child advocates have taken action to address this justice gap, but these efforts have fallen short of a solution. In a recent case, J.E.F.M v. Lynch, regarding the government’s failure to provide counsel to defend children matched against federal prosecutors in immigration court, the Ninth Circuit implored the Executive and Congress to address the crisis: “[t]o give meaning to ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ . . . to ensure the fair and effective administration of our immigration system, and to protect the interests of children who must struggle through that system, the problem demands action now.” The Justice Department and some state and local governments have begun funding a limited number of temporary fellowship positions, usually for recent law graduates, to defend children from deportation. As these initiatives develop and expand, policy makers and philanthropic organizations will need to determine the most effective and efficient ways to provide counsel to so many migrant children. This article contemplates the best practices for high volume delivery of legal services for children in immigration court. Drawing on original, empirical data regarding recent Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) applications and extensive interviews with organizations and individuals nationwide filing the most SIJS applications, this article considers emerging trends in the representation of child migrants, identifies common characteristics of effective high volume practices representing children, and offers recommendations to expand access to qualified counsel and to create a child-centered approach to youth in removal proceedings.
Keywords: Immigration, Children, Deportation, Immigration Representation, Access to Counsel, Public Defender System for Immigrants
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