ABA President William C. Hubbard expressed the association’s enthusiasm Oct. 20 for collaborating with the Obama administration and other stakeholders to enhance access to legal representation for unaccompanied children in the immigration court system nationwide.
In a letter to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has assumed a leadership role on the issue, Hubbard noted the work that is already being done in this area by the ABA and other organizations, including the establishment of the ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants. The working group – a cross-section of lawyers from several ABA entities – will recruit, train and mentor additional attorneys to increase the capacity of existing legal services programs and complement their efforts.
“We want to emphasize, however, that pro bono representation cannot provide a complete solution to this problem,” Hubbard clarified. He pointed out that because of the large number of children lacking counsel, as well as many other competing civil justice pro bono needs, the demand for pro bono services for these children outweighs the available resources. Addressing the situation, he said, will require additional resources and initiatives from the federal government as well as the nonprofit and private sectors.
Recommended steps, he said, should include: prioritizing access to counsel and legal services for detained and non-detained children; facilitating pro bono efforts by allowing adequate time for children to obtain counsel and for counsel to prepare cases; and ensuring adequate funding for the immigration courts and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Office.
“The ABA fully agrees with you that the rapid increase in unaccompanied children entering our country presents extremely difficult challenges. However, we cannot be in such a rush to address this crisis that we abandon the principles of fairness and due process that are the hallmark of our justice system,” Hubbard said.