About 26,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the US border between October 2017 and April 2018, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Gauto has argued a number of such cases before immigration judges to help keep his clients in a safer environment.
Without the help of Gauto and others at Clinic, those children would need to pay for their own legal representation. Federal statutes do not give them the right to government-funded representation, though the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed a resolution in 2015 urging that this be changed. And the likelihood of the children being successful without a lawyer is practically nil, Gauto says.
In one case, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador was sold against her will by her mother to a man in the United States. The girl was arrested at the border and later placed in a detention center, where Gauto was enlisted to represent her. She received a special immigrant juvenile visa, which is given to abused, abandoned or neglected children. A state court judge was convinced of the girl’s plight and agreed that she could apply for the visa. Later, the girl was transferred to a foster care home.
In another case, he worked with two teenage girls who left Vietnam to testify against the US serviceman accused of sexually abusing them. Gauto partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the girls were later placed in foster care. Gauto helped them get U visas because they were victims of crime and were helpful in the prosecution of that crime.
Gauto has not only zealously represented children facing deportation but also was the driving force behind the growth and development of the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project that has served thousands of young people, says Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. She and Gauto have known each other since law school, and they worked together at Clinic.
Now Gauto provides training, technical assistance, and consultation to new lawyers so they can help even more immigrant children.