January 01, 2017

Representing Unaccompanied Minors in Deportation Proceedings

What it’s like to work with children from war-torn countries, and how to best help them.

Liz Shields

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Outlined in crayons stands a utilitarian house in red. Trees, a yellow sun, and a stream, all depicted in bright colors, and stick figure people in a line. I smile briefly at the drawing on my desk, thinking about the six-year-old child client who drew the picture earlier that day. When I look a little closer, my smile fades. The stick figure people, who represent the child’s family, are not smiling. They are holding their arms in the air, and behind them, another stick figure is holding what looks to be a gun. There is another figure in the picture too, lying on the earth in a pool of red Crayola blood. I finally notice that the sun, though bright yellow, has a frowning face and is crying. This is not the first time in my work that I have encountered images like this. I work with children who come to the United States seeking protection from violence, and while some can verbally articulate the reasons they are here, many are too young to do so and can only share their experiences and feelings through shudder-inducing pictures.

For the past seven years, I have worked for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a national nonprofit organization, located in 10 cities, that seeks to ensure that no child is forced to go through immigration removal proceedings alone. KIND works toward this goal in myriad ways: We recruit, train, and mentor pro bono attorneys from law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, and bar associations to represent unaccompanied children referred to KIND; we represent children in-house through our direct representation program; nationally, we advocate for changes in law, policy, and practice to improve protections for unaccompanied children; and regionally, we work to ensure the safe return and reintegration of unaccompanied children.

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