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Immigration Court: Where Children Are Their Own Lawyers

August 25, 2016
Plain English Version
Immigration court

U.S. Immigration Court.

There is an easy way to practice law. You do not have to go to law school. Just cross the Mexican border into the U.S. as a child without a parent. In no time, you will find yourself in a court of law. You will be on your own. You will be facing a judge. You will be your own lawyer.

It is not that easy. A 16-year old boy from El Salvador was in immigration court. The judge was in front of him. The federal prosecutor was to his right. Later the boy spoke. “I was afraid I was going to make a mistake. When the judge asked me questions, I just shook my head yes and no. I did not want to say the wrong thing.”

All around the country thousands of children detained at the border act as their own lawyers. They usually plead for asylum or some other type of relief.

Suspected criminals get lawyers. Asylum seekers do not. In recent years the courts sent back more than half the children who had no lawyer. Only one in ten children with a lawyer lost their case.

Other court systems that deal with children, such as family court, give them lawyers.

The government says these children do not have a right to public legal representation. But it is trying to help. It is funding programs for lawyers to help children in immigration courts. Cities and states, such as New York, also are funding programs for lawyers to help such children. It will be awhile before there will be enough lawyers to help all those in need. A case is pending to mandate that lawyers be in attendance for these proceedings.

Children are fleeing El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. They say it is not safe to live in those countries. Skeptics say some of the children just want to get to the U.S. where their chances for school and work are better.

There are other problems presented by these children.  Many go to relatives. Keeping track of them after placement with relatives is a big challenge.

The U.S. is trying to help the home countries. It is funding programs to cut down on crime in those countries. It is sending agents to countries along immigration routes. They are teaching border agents to process the children and return some of them home.

Source: The New York Times August 21, 2016

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