Gaps Remain as New HHS Funding for Child Migrant Legal Representation is Announced
New York City – Human Rights First today said the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) announcement that it will provide supplemental funding to two nongovernmental organizations to provide legal assistance to child migrants is a welcome step, but will not be enough to fill the gap in access to counsel for the thousands of unaccompanied minors attempting to navigate the increasingly complex immigration system.
Earlier this week, HHS awarded $4.26 million in funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants through the Unaccompanied Alien Children’s program, and the department plans to provide more funding next year that will bring the total investment to $9 million.
“This funding is an important step forward toward increasing counsel for children fleeing violence in Central America,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “But there are far more children in need of legal services than can be addressed by this funding. Children simply cannot navigate our complex immigration system without legal representation. Not only does counsel help make the immigration system more fair, but it also saves the government significant costs and makes the system more effective and efficient.”
According to a recent study by NERA Economic Counsulting, the creation of a federal program to provide legal counsel to every respondent in immigration removal proceedings could save taxpayers at least $173 million in detention costs per year. Immigration judges have repeatedly affirmed that proceedings where immigrants are represented move ahead more efficiently. And multiple studies have confirmed that immigrants who are represented by counsel appear for their court hearings and are more likely to successfully navigate the system.
Human Rights First continues to urge Congress and the Obama Administration to fully support counsel for those in immigration removal and asylum proceedings, in particular for vulnerable populations such as children, asylum seekers, and individuals held in immigration detention. Representation by counsel sends a message that the United States respects the rule of law.
Human Rights First provides pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers and immigrants in the Washington, D.C., New York City, New Jersey and Houston areas. With generous support from a private donor, the organization is stepping up its representation efforts to provide pro bono representation to unaccompanied children and families who have crossed the southern border.