Immigrant Children Desperately Need Lawyers

March 10, 2016

To the Editor:

Re “Migrant Children, Voiceless in Court” (editorial, March 8):

It is alarming that a government lawyer responsible for training immigration judges who hear unaccompanied children’s cases stated that the small children who flee to the United States alone to escape violence and seek safety are equipped to represent themselves in the adversarial immigration court system.

Every day, we see these children in our offices. Elementary-school children and young teenagers struggle to share basic information about the trauma that caused them to flee to the United States, much less provide the detailed narrative necessary to substantiate a claim for asylum or other immigration relief. The scars on their bodies and reports from other witnesses attest to harm they do not yet have words to describe.

Many of these children are refugees who would never know to define themselves as such without the aid of lawyers who spend countless hours and immeasurable resources piecing together a history the child is unable to tell. Lawyers help children navigate the process, make sure that they are finding the social services they need and make court hearings more efficient.

Denying children the right to counsel in life-or-death cases puts their lives at risk and betrays justice.




Ms. McCarthy is executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center. Ms. Young is president of Kids in Need of Defense.