A KIND Blog

A Day in Baltimore Court

As a result of the large and mass influx of unaccompanied children entering the United States at it's southwest borders, the state court system has been significantly strained. To reduce some of this pressure from the court system, the Department of Justice has ordered that all unaccompanied minor cases be moved to the front of the docket. However, expediting the court proceedings poses many problems for the children and families. Unaccompanied minors are not being granted enough time to find legal representation or in some cases are receiving their order to appear in court with very short notice.

To find out more about these new proceedings KIND went to observe a docket held in Baltimore's immigration court. The first docket was held at 8:30 in the morning and after passing through strict security everyone was seated in the waiting area before being ushered into the courtroom. Their passports clutched very tightly their hands, it clearly indicated that many of the children were from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have recently been experiencing some of the highest numbers of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and poverty.
Many of the children and their guardians patiently wait in their professional dresses and dress suits. The young boys wearing jackets and ties and young girls wearing dresses with bows in their hair. The families seem nervous as they enter the court and sit down on the cold wooden benches. But, the court proceedings start with an explanation from an interpreter about the complicated process they are about to begin. The whole process can be very daunting for a young child.

One by one the children's guardians confirm their addresses with the interpreter and are given a packet of information. This packet includes information on how to find pro bono legal representation or low cost legal aid. KIND's own Baltimore office is mentioned as a contact to these families. However, the majority of these families are unable to read english and there were no packets in Spanish to decipher the complex legal language.

Upon the judge entering the courtroom she asked how many people needed more time to find an attorney. Out of nine cases only four have attorneys, the rest were all given a new hearing date to obtain legal counsel. This new hearing date is only six weeks away which doesn't give the families much time to find a lawyer or to find the money needed to pay for legal services. The immigration court system is dramatically different from normal legal proceedings. The government is not required to provide legal counsel during immigration proceedings but even the most hardened criminals are provided legal representation and given their day in court. Attorneys have talked about how hard it still is for them to navigate the immigration court system, let alone a child.

Those families who have managed to find lawyers speak to the judge one by one. Every single attorney asks for more time. One had only met his young clients a few days ago and needed more time to discuss the case with them. They are given a new hearing date and the judge encourages the children to work with their lawyer, which is not an easy task for a seven year old who has been through a horrific ordeal, sometimes involving rape and brutal treatment.
KIND observed two more dockets that day where similar proceedings took place. Of the 36 cases heard in court that day, only six had attorneys, and the rest all needed more time to find someone to represent them in court and all those in attendance were there with family members or guardians.

KIND was able to have a discussion with the immigration court judge who urged KIND to take on more cases as there are so many children who don't have attorneys. The judge stated that the children she was seeing in court were getting younger and younger, the youngest she had seen was just five years old and that at the initial stages both guardians and children seemed bewildered when coming to court. The judge noted an increase in the numbers of cases involving unaccompanied minors since the influx of children fleeing to the south border.
This process is being seen throughout the U.S. immigration courts on a daily basis. With the influx of children fleeing violence in their home countries continuing, the courts will see many more of these cases. The child's only hope is to have a fair chance to share their story in court, which means they need an attorney to represent them. With over 70,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border by the end of fiscal year 2014, only 1 out of 10 of those children will be represented by a lawyer in immigration court. With children as young as 18 months appearing in immigration court without an attorney, how can we as Americans deny them access to the most basic right of fairness and due process?

UPDATE: Since this blog was written, Governor Martin O'Malley has been at the forefront of urging pro bono representation for unaccompanied children in Maryland. Read this article in the Washington Post to get more information.

Fragomen Launches Nationwide Pro Bono Initiative in Response to Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Crisis

Fragomen, the world's leading firm exclusively devoted to counseling corporate clients on global immigration law, is partnering with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) on a major pro bono initiative to represent unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings in the United States. The program was initiated in response to the unprecedented crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of children have arrived after fleeing abuse and violence in Central America.

Read more: Fragomen Launches Nationwide Pro Bono Initiative in Response to Unaccompanied Immigrant Children...

New York State's role in addressing the influx of migrant youth from Central American countries

Testimony

New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families Task Force on New Americans

Megan McKenna, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Communications and Advocacy Director

September 16, 2014

Thank you to Assembly Member Michele Titus, Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services, Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families Chair Donna Lupardo, Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, Chair of Assembly Task Force on New Americans for inviting Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) to speak before you today.

KIND is a national nonprofit organization that finds pro bono attorneys for unaccompanied children in deportation proceedings through our more than 220 law firm, corporate, and law school partners, which have agreed to represent unaccompanied children referred to KIND. With modest staff in our eight field offices across the country, KIND matches these volunteer attorneys with the children, and trains and mentors the attorneys throughout their cases. No immigration experience is necessary for an attorney to volunteer with KIND.

Read more: New York State's role in addressing the influx of migrant youth from Central American countries

House of Representatives’ Supplemental Funding Bill Harms Children, Does Not Address Key Issues

July 30, 2014 -- KIND strongly opposes the House of Representatives' supplemental funding bill introduced yesterday as it completely undermines existing protections for unaccompanied children, decimates due process, and does not address the root causes of this historic child migration.

Read more: House of Representatives’ Supplemental Funding Bill Harms Children, Does Not Address Key Issues

Congressional Progressive Caucus Ad-Hoc Hearing

Kids First: Examining the Southern Border Humanitarian Crisis
Testimony, Megan McKenna, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
July 29, 2014

Thank you Congressman Grijalva, Congressman Ellison, and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for inviting me to testify before you today.

I am with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), which has matched unaccompanied children with pro bono attorneys since 2009. We have partnered with more than 210 law firms, corporations, and law schools which agree to represent on a volunteer basis the children referred to KIND. KIND has trained more than 7,300 pro bono attorneys and has been referred over 6,300 children since we opened our doors. The response from the private sector has been and continues to be tremendous.

Read more: Congressional Progressive Caucus Ad-Hoc Hearing

Senator Mikulski Promotes Fairness, Protection, and Compassion for Unaccompanied Children in Supplemental Funding Bill

KIND greatly appreciates Senator Mikulski's ongoing concern for the unaccompanied children who have come to the United States seeking U.S protection. Senator Mikulski's supplemental funding bill would greatly enhance the ability of these children to access U.S. protection and ensure that they have full, fair, and timely adjudications.

In particular, the increase in funding for immigration judge teams and legal representation above the President's request is key to ensuring that we are not sending children who need and deserve US protection back to harm. As the majority of these children are traumatized, confused, and too young to understand the proceedings in which they find themselves, they desperately need a full hearing before an immigration judge and a lawyer to help them present their case. Without an attorney, it is very unlikely that these children can make their case for U.S. protection before a judge and against a government attorney who is arguing for the child's deportation. The Pew Research Center recently reported a 117 percent increase in children under 12 arriving - how can we expect them, or even older children, to defend themselves in these proceedings? Attorneys also ensure that children remain in the system. Recent data compiled by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) found that 90 percent or more unaccompanied children appear for their immigration court dates when represented by an attorney.

Read more: Senator Mikulski Promotes Fairness, Protection, and Compassion for Unaccompanied Children in...

Refugee, Legal and Policy Experts React to Obama Administration’s Supplemental Funding Request for Central American Children Seeking Protection

For Immediate Release:
July 9, 2014

Contact: Katy Green at 650-464-1545

Discuss the Policy, Priorities, and Path Forward

Washington, DC – Refugee, policy and legal experts held a press call today to review the Obama Administration's emergency supplemental request to respond to the increase in children fleeing Central America and seeking protection in the United States (as well as other countries in the region).

Speakers included Michelle Brané, Director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission; Greg Chen, Director of Advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association; Megan McKenna, Communications and Advocacy Director for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND); and Leslie E. Vélez, Senior Protection Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

To listen to a recording of today's call, CLICK HERE.

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Obama Administration Must Not Abandon Protection of Unaccompanied Children

KIND IMAGE - ALWAYS USE

June 30, 2014-- Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is deeply concerned about the Obama administration's request to Congress for $2 billion to speed the deportations of unaccompanied children arriving to the United States.

"The administration is completely abandoning its responsibility and global leadership in protecting the most vulnerable by denying refugee and trafficked children fair and meaningful access to US protection," said KIND President Wendy Young.

Read more: Obama Administration Must Not Abandon Protection of Unaccompanied Children

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and House Members Introduce Legislation To Provide Legal Representation Of Unaccompanied Minors

The following is a press release from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) office. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stephanie Báez (Jeffries) 917-518-0067
Dan Roth (Bass) 202-225-7084
Benjamin Soskin (Roybal-Allard) 202-225-1766
Courtney Hruska (Chu) 202-225-5464
Viet Shelton (DelBene) 202-225-6311

June 23, 2014

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES AND HOUSE MEMBERS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION OF UNACCOMPANIED MINORS

Reps. Jeffries, Bass, Roybal-Allard, Chu, Gutierrez, Deutch and DelBene introduce the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014

VIVA PC 1WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Karen Bass (CA-37), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), and Judy Chu (CA-27) held a press conference to announce introduction of the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014 (VIVA). The legislation would provide legal representation to unaccompanied minors and mentally disabled individuals during immigration proceedings, in the wake of the growing humanitarian crisis we confront.

 

Read more: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and House Members Introduce Legislation To Provide Legal Representation Of...

Sens. Menendez, Durbin, Hirono, and Reps. Gutierrez and Roybal-Allard Discuss Humanitarian and Refugee Children Crisis at the Border

The following is a press release from the office of Senator Menendez:

Washington, DC – At a press conference today, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) to address the hemispheric refugee crisis on the Southern border and in Central America. The Members discussed a series of actions and policy changes, on both the domestic and foreign affairs fronts, to better handle the surge of Central Americans being forced to leave their homelands as a result of the alarming levels of violence in the region.

Read more: Sens. Menendez, Durbin, Hirono, and Reps. Gutierrez and Roybal-Allard Discuss Humanitarian and...

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