New Legislation Would Provide Lawyers for Children, Vulnerable Individuals
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to support legislation that would provide access to counsel for unaccompanied children and vulnerable individuals in the immigration court system, including victims of violence, abuse and torture. The legislation, the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, was introduced today by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
“As one of the nation’s leading providers of pro bono representation for asylum seekers and unaccompanied children, we know firsthand that having a lawyer is one of the single most important indicators of whether a vulnerable asylum seeker receives protection. Furthermore, multiple studies confirm that legal representation and information promotes efficiency, saves money, supports appearance, and is essential for navigating the complex U.S. asylum and immigration systems,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.
According to government data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, less than half of unaccompanied immigrant children are represented by a lawyer. Those who are unrepresented are ordered deported 90 percent of the time, while those with a lawyer are five times more likely to be granted relief by an immigration judge.
A May 2014 study found that the efficiencies created through increased legal representation in court proceedings and reduced detention time would mitigate the costs of providing legal representation to indigent immigrants.
“Having a lawyer can mean the difference between life and death for those fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Children, especially, can hardly be expected to navigate the complex U.S. legal system on their own,” said Acer. “To leave indigent vulnerable individuals to be deported back to danger and harm simply because they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer runs contrary to American ideals and commitments to fairness.”