A report from the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) finds that the U.S. immigration system fails children who come alone to the U.S. in search of safety, stability, and protection.
There has been a surge in recent years of unaccompanied minor children coming to the U.S. “These children, fleeing now in record numbers, face a system that was created for adults, does not provide them legal counsel, and is not required to consider the child’s best interests,” said Lisa Frydman, CGRS Associate Director and Managing Attorney. “And this is despite the potentially enormous impact of these proceedings on children’s lives.”
The report, “A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System,” issued jointly by CGRS and KIND, recommends the creation of a more child-friendly system that will help ensure the protection and rights of unaccompanied migrant children, whether in the U.S. or returning to their home countries.
No right to counsel
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement handled the cases of 24,668 unaccompanied minors in fiscal Year 2013. The vast majority, 97 percent, came from Central America and Mexico. Those numbers are predicted to increase dramatically as instability in those regions continues.
“These migrant children should be treated as children, first and foremost,” Frydman said. The children have no right to government-appointed counsel; more than half do not have attorneys, the report states. “Unable to make their case before an immigration judge and against a government attorney, some children are sent home to dangerous, even life-threatening situations,” Frydman said.
The report recommends detailed solutions and numerous reforms, including representation, due process reforms, child-sensitive policies and procedures, and creation of a new form of “best interests” immigration relief for children who do not otherwise qualify for immigration status, but for whom return would be harmful to their safety or well-being.
The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) at the University of California Hastings College of the Law provides legal expertise, training, and resources to attorneys representing asylum seekers – in particular, women, children, and LGBT individuals – advocates to protect refugees and advance refugee law and policy, and uses domestic, regional, and international human rights mechanisms to address the root causes of persecution.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) was founded by Angelina Jolie and Microsoft to create a pro bono movement to provide high quality legal counsel to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children in the United States, which the organization does in partnership with almost 200 major law firms, corporations, and law schools. KIND serves as the leading organization for the protection of unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone and strives to ensure that no such child appears in immigration court without representation. KIND also leads an innovative project to ensure that children who are returning to their homelands can do so safely by providing comprehensive services to ensure their successful reintegration.