Report: US Immigration System Failing Unaccompanied Children

A report released today by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the UC Hastings Center for Gender & Refugee Studies finds that the U.S. immigration system significantly fails children who come to the United States alone in search of safety, stability, and protection. These children—who have been fleeing to the United States in recent years in record numbers—face a system that was created for adults, does not provide them legal counsel , and is not required to consider the child's best interests, despite the potentially enormous impact of the proceedings on the child's life and future.

A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System, was written by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) based on each organization's extensive work with and research on these children. The report recommends the creation of a more child-friendly system that will help ensure the protection and rights of unaccompanied children in the United States and of those who are returning to their home countries. Please join us for a telephonic briefing on the report on March 10 at 3pm EST. Call-in number: 877-594-8353 passcode: 52599217.

The surge in unaccompanied migrant children is unprecedented—from an average of 6,000 – 8,000 each year until the end of 2011, to more than 14,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, nearly 25,000 in FY 2013, and as many as 74,000 projected in FY 2014, with no signs of the influx abating. These children are placed in deportation proceedings with no right to government-appointed counsel—more than half do not have attorneys. Unable to make their case before an immigration judge and against a government attorney, many of these children can be sent home to dangerous, even life-threatening, situations.

 A Treacherous Journey argues that the United States should treat these migrants as children first and foremost. We must provide them with legal counsel and child advocates in immigration proceedings, devise child-sensitive procedures, and apply the best interests of the child standard in all decisions that affect them. The report recommends detailed solutions for these and many of the other reforms it champions.

"With the historic numbers of children coming alone to seek protection in the United States, we need to meet our international and moral obligation to ensure a fundamentally fair process," says KIND President and immigration policy expert Wendy Young, "Due process for these uniquely vulnerable children requires that we provide them at the very least with a lawyer to represent them."

A Treacherous Journey draws on data from hundreds of case records, surveys of immigration attorneys who represent children, a comprehensive review of published studies and immigration laws and policies, and the author organizations' extensive experience both directly representing children as well as training and advising volunteer attorneys who represent them.

The report examines what needs to be done to ensure the rights of children who flee their home countries alone, to protect them from return to circumstances that are harmful to their well-being, to provide them with a path to permanency, and to ensure safe and sustainable repatriation for those children who return home.

CGRS Associate Director and Managing Attorney Lisa Frydman, a specialist in immigrant children's rights and asylum law, argues for sweeping reforms: "We need to enact a new form of immigration relief to grant immediate permanent residency to unaccompanied immigrant children who do not qualify for existing forms of relief and for whom repatriation is contrary to their best interests."

CGRS and KIND produced A Treacherous Journey with support from the Migration Program of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Please click here for the full report and executive summary.

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