Child Migrants, Alone in Court

April 10, 2013

Below is an excerpt from an op-ed written by KIND board member Sonia Nazario via The New York Times:

BELKIS RIVERA, 14 years old, sat in the Los Angeles immigration courtroom, in a black coat and purple scarf, shaking with fear.

When Belkis was 6, the gang that controlled her neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, killed her grandmother and then her uncle, and demanded that her brothers join as lookouts. Belkis’s mother took the boys and fled to the United States, leaving Belkis behind with family. When the gang started stalking and threatening Belkis, then 13, she followed, making the terrifying six-month journey across Mexico by herself. She was caught by the Border Patrol last September, while crossing into the United States.

Now she faced one more trauma: America’s judicial system.

In a nation that prides itself on the fact that everyone accused of a crime — murderers, rapists — has the right to a lawyer, undocumented immigrants, even when they are unaccompanied children, are not entitled to a public defender. Although some children are represented by pro bono lawyers or, for the few whose families can afford it, private lawyers, it’s estimated that more than half of them go to court alone. These children — some as young as 2 years old — have no one to help them make the case that they should not be deported.

Read the full article via The New York Times