A memorandum from President Joe Biden expanding access to legal representation will also expand legal access for unaccompanied migrant children fleeing violence and other dangers, children’s advocacy group Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) said.
Organization president Wendy Young said that despite “life-and-death stakes” they face, “year after year the majority of unaccompanied children do not have attorneys. This must end now. We can no longer allow children’s lives to be a game of chance or allow toddlers to face an immigration judge with no one to help them.”
As previously noted, unlike in the criminal court system, people facing immigration court aren’t guaranteed legal help, no matter how vulnerable—or young—they might be.
“An attorney can literally be life-saving in the cases of unaccompanied children whose future and well-being depend on the outcome of their immigration proceedings,” Young continued. “It is all but impossible for a child without a lawyer to effectively make their case for humanitarian protection in the United States. In fact, children with attorneys are 70 times more likely to win their cases in immigration court. Unrepresented children, meanwhile, face grave risk of return to the very harm they fled.”
Biden’s memo, announced on May 18, was cheered by other advocacy groups and leaders, including Amnesty International USA Advocacy Director Joanne Lin. She tweeted that “[a]s a former legal services lawyer, I know that #EqualityForAll depends on fair access to counsel & the courts. Whether seeking child custody or asylum protection, all people—regardless of income or immigration status—need counsel who are competent, affordable, bilingual.
“Importantly, the provision of attorneys for unaccompanied children also helps improve immigration court efficiency, conserve resources, and increase appearance rates,” Young continued. “KIND urges the Biden administration and Congress to safeguard due process for vulnerable children and efficiency for the immigration court system by advocating for and appropriating robust funding to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement for legal services for these children as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill.”
The American Immigration Council also welcomed the policy move, and urged the Biden administration to expand it to all immigrants. “Though good news, the Biden administration must go further and work to guarantee representation to all people in removal proceedings,” the organization tweeted.