Last week, members of the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that will help ensure access to counsel in removal proceedings for our nation’s most vulnerable immigrants.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act. If passed, the legislation would provide unaccompanied children with legal representation in removal proceedings. Under the current system, there is no right to government-appointed counsel in removal proceedings. The bill also requires that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney General provide legal orientation programs (such as “Know Your Rights” presentations) to all those being held in immigration detention facilities.
“Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law out there. Toddlers should not be placed in this situation. Children without attorneys are much more vulnerable than adults – 9 out of 10 children without attorneys are ordered deported. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a majority of recently-arrived unaccompanied children are eligible for legal protection that would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States. But they cannot access these protections without an attorney to represent them in court or even to ensure they receive proper notice of their hearings. Children with attorneys are 5 times more likely to be granted protection.”
The proposed legislation is a response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central America. Due to increasing levels of violence in the region, many families and unaccompanied children have fled these countries to the U.S. in search of refuge. Their journey to the U.S., however, is not easy and many encounter challenges to their physical safety along the way.
This legislation is a positive first step in addressing the humanitarian crisis. It is vital that our nation treat refugees in a manner consistent with our fundamental values. That includes upholding due process protection for the most vulnerable. The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act will ensure unaccompanied children have basic access to a lawyer during removal proceedings. As Senator Reid stated, “Barriers to legal counsel should not determine whether an individual, and especially a child, lives in peace or fear for his or her life.” Hopefully members of the U.S. Senate will come together to ensure passage of this important legislation.