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September 01, 2014

Washington News Brief: Unaccompanied Children

ABA President William C. Hubbard expressed the association’s strong support this month for a city ordinance approved Sept. 16 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that will allocate more than $2.1 million over the next two years to provide legal services to unaccompanied children and families in removal proceedings in the San Francisco Immigration Court. “While many law firms and non-governmental organizations, including the ABA, are working to increase pro bono representation, there are simply not enough resources currently available to ensure representation for all unaccompanied children placed in removal proceedings,” Hubbard emphasized in a letter to the board the day before the vote. He noted the significant increase in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children seeking refuge in the United States over the past year. He said this “tremendous influx” reflects a regional humanitarian crisis as children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico flee abuse, violence, death threats and neglect. Many of these children are eligible to apply for existing forms of immigration relief, but there is no right to appointed counsel for unaccompanied children in removal proceedings. As a result, these children frequently have no choice but to represent themselves against experienced government lawyers and face insurmountable obstacles due to the complexity of U.S. immigration laws, their age and lack of education, and language and cultural barriers. “Fundamental principles of fairness and due process demand that these children receive legal representation to represent their interests throughout the immigration process,” Hubbard said, pointing out that access to counsel weighs tremendously on whether a child’s eligibility for relief is identified and in securing immigration relief and permanent protection in the United States.

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