Esther Cepeda: Young, alone — and in court

May 1, 2013

Below is an excerpt of an op-ed in The Washington Post referencing the work of KIND:

“The recent litigation to protect individuals who cannot defend themselves in court set us up to connect the dots to children,” said Wendy Young, president of the Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy organization Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

“Extending these protections to children is the natural next step. These, too, are individuals unable to understand the proceedings they are involved in. We’ve represented children as young as 2 years old and it’s really a travesty of justice — the judges are almost as distressed as the children when they see young kids coming in to court without counsel.”

According to KIND, each year more than 8,000 unaccompanied children come to the U.S. alone, many of them escaping abuse or persecution, or as victims of trafficking, abandonment or severe deprivation. They’re expected to face the courts without counsel even though most children can’t understand the complex procedures or the options open to them. And there’s almost always a language barrier.

With the right legal representation, many of these children — about 40 percent in 2010, according to the Vega Institute — would qualify for some form of relief from removal.

KIND, like other organizations such as the Immigrant Children’s Assistance Project of the American Bar Association, provides pro bono legal assistance to detained, unaccompanied children and trains lawyers to take up these complex cases.

As with any other proposal for immigration system relief, the first question raised by doubters is how much it would cost to provide such services.

“You have to remember that we’re talking about a very small slice of the 11 million undocumented immigrants on which most of our attention is focused,” Young told me. “Even though we’re seeing an increase in the numbers of children in this situation, the cost would be a fairly modest amount, to be perfectly honest. Because we’re talking about a private-public partnership, we’re only looking at a range of $15 million to $28 million per year, depending on the fluctuation in the numbers.”

To put that in context, though at the high end $28 million isn’t chump change, it’s also a relative pittance within the Department of Justice’s $27.1 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013. And the benefits would ripple far beyond cases involving minors.

“It would help the courts become more efficient,” said Young. “Rather than have kids coming in at multiple times, it would be much faster if they had counsel from the get-go so their cases could move ahead quicker.”

Read the entire article via The Washington Post