For the next three years, the Division has adopted a collaborative project with KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) to provide opportunities to our members to give back. Beginning with our Fall National Solo and Small Firm Conference from October 20–22 in Denver, Colorado, at the Westin Downtown Denver, we are working with KIND to put on training on immigration law proceedings so that our members can take on a pro bono matter in their communities. The training will be available at the conference and also via a webcast for those who are not able to attend in person. The cases to be assigned to our members will match a member with an unaccompanied child (who could be as young as three, four, or five years of age) and who would otherwise be representing themselves. Not only will our members be provided with this training, but they will also be matched up with a mentor so that our members are not on their own. This unique opportunity will also allow our trained members to expand their practices into the area of immigration. So whatever the motivation, we have a valuable opportunity for our members and an especially valuable opportunity for a young, vulnerable unaccompanied child. Please join us in making a difference in the life of a child. To register for the in-person meeting, please click here. To register for the webcast, please click here.
—Laura V. Farber
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Celia and Amina* are sisters from West Africa, ages 16 and 5. Both underwent female genital mutilation (FGM)—Celia when she was 14, Amina when she was 3 years old. The family members who organized the FGM had also arranged for Celia to be married to a much older man from the village. Others in the family opposed this marriage and feared for Celia and Amina’s future. They managed to get the girls to the United States; however, neither the girls nor their caretaker in the US could afford a lawyer to help the girls apply for US protection. They came to KIND, which found them a pro bono attorney who is helping the girls with their asylum case.
Jose had been abandoned by his parents in Central America when he was 6 years old. He was taken in by a grandmother and some cousins who abused him violently for many years—beating him, depriving him of food and education, and even tying him to a tree for periods of time. No one in the community would help him. At 12 years old, Jose decided to try to escape and come to the United States, where he hoped he would find protection. KIND found him a dedicated pro bono attorney who was successful in gaining US protection for Jose. He is now 14 and enjoying what had been denied to him all these years—a safe and happy childhood.
Each year approximately 8,000 children who come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian are placed in US custody and in deportation proceedings. Many of these children are escaping severe abuse, persecution, natural disasters, life-threatening poverty, or violence; others are victims of trafficking, have been abandoned by their families, or are trying to find parents who left them behind years previously. A common trait of all these children is desperation.
When these children are apprehended by US government officials and face immigration proceedings, the majority must do so without a lawyer. Immigrants who are in deportation proceedings in the United States do not have a right to free legal assistance—even if they are children.
Without counsel, most children can’t understand the complex procedures they face and the options open to them. They are no match for the government attorney who is arguing for their deportation. Too often, children with viable claims are unable to present them and, as a result, can be sent back to perilous fates, where their well-being, or even their lives, may be in danger.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) was founded by the Microsoft Corporation and Angelina Jolie in late 2008 to help provide competent and compassionate legal counsel to these children. KIND has partnered with more than 115 major law firms and corporate legal departments who have committed to representing unaccompanied children.
Attorneys who volunteer with KIND do not need immigration experience. KIND trains and mentors volunteers throughout the life of their cases to ensure that the children receive the best representation possible. Attorneys who take KIND cases gain new skills, get courtroom experience, and have direct interaction with the children they are representing. Most of all, they give these at risk children new hope for their futures.
KIND is committed to creating a national network of trained attorneys who can be a resource for unaccompanied children in desperate need across the country. To date, KIND has trained more than 3,000 attorneys. KIND holds regular training sessions in all its offices for new volunteers or for those who want to gain more in-depth knowledge about representing children in a variety of scenarios. KIND’s goal is to ensure 100 percent representation of unaccompanied children in the cities in which we work.
KIND’s headquarters are in Washington, DC; it has field offices in Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York City, and Washington, DC. KIND also has an affiliate in Seattle, Washington, Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice, which was cofounded by the Microsoft Corporation and the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration.
Children have been coming to KIND in increasing numbers ever since it became operational in January 2009. KIND has received more than 3,000 referrals to date; clients are as young as 2 years old with an average age of 14.5.
KIND also advocates for changes in US law, procedure, and practice to protect the rights of unaccompanied children. KIND helps craft and support legislation to promote the increased protection of these children, and also works with federal agencies to improve their treatment and care.
KIND recognizes that not all unaccompanied children are eligible for US protection. A number of children will have to return to their home countries, often to the conditions that they felt they had to escape in the first place. KIND has embarked with The Global Fund for Children on a pilot project to help unaccompanied children who are returning home to Guatemala—either voluntarily or through deportation—so they can integrate back into the community successfully and in a way that is sustainable.
When a child decides that she/he wants to participate in the Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project (GCRRP), a KIND social worker will discuss with the child the needs that the child anticipates upon return—for example, shelter, job skills training, counseling, or education. The KIND social worker then devises a care plan that is sent to KIND’s five local nongovernmental organization partners in Guatemala; they then implement the plan to best meet the child’s needs. KIND monitors the child’s situation for some time after her/his return to determine if the child’s reintegration has been successful and what else the child might need to ensure their well-being. KIND will develop best practices from this three-year pilot project so it can be replicated in other countries in the region and around the world.
KIND is working to shine a light on this largely invisible, but highly vulnerable, group of children by creating an ever-growing movement on their behalf that will change the way they are treated in this country. As a leader in the protection of the most vulnerable, providing pro bono representation to children who came to this country alone in search of safe haven is the least we can do. No child, regardless of where they are from, should face court in the United States without representation.
*The names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy.
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Immigration Hearings 101: A Complete Tool Kit for Representing Children in Immigration Court
Friday, October 21, 2011
Part 1: 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Mountain Time
Part 2: 2:45 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. Mountain Time
This comprehensive CLE will be taught by experienced immigration lawyers and trainers and will provide lawyers with the tools needed to competently represent children in the immigration courts. This program is being sponsored by the GPSolo Pro Bono & Public Service Committee and upon completion of the training, attendees will be offered the opportunity to participate in immigration proceedings representing unaccompanied children, through established pro bono programs that identify and screen clients, and provide mentors and support.
Speakers: Diana Castaneda (New York, NY) and Christina Fiflis (Denver, CO)