NYC is Doing It Right with Lawyers for Unaccompanied Minors

Six months ago Human Rights First’s Lori Adams testified before the New York City Council Committee on Immigration as it instituted a program to ensure all unaccompanied minors who recently ran from violence in Central America have lawyers. Buzzfeed recently offered an update on that program, showing that it has screened 424 cases and shielded 13 children from deportation as of February.

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. The New York City government should be commended for funding initiatives to protect this vulnerable population through legal representation. New York is also ahead of the curve when it comes to funding attorneys for those held in immigration detention.

While these programs deserve recognition, they should be expanded to include another vulnerable group—mothers with young children. Recent Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data showed that without a lawyer, 98.5% of mothers with children were deported. With a lawyer, their chances of receiving protection are 17 times better.

New York City’s representation initiative should serve as a model across the country. And the federal government, which has taken some steps to support access to counsel, should do much more. By supporting legal representation for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable populations, the United States would be living up to its commitment to due process and the protection of refugees. Mothers and their children should not be left out of representation funding initiatives, as they are desperately in need of protection as well.

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Published on April 2, 2015

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