It’s a worthwhile project with a clear purpose: to provide free legal assistance to the thousands of children who cross the United States border alone.
“There is a tremendous need,” said Wendy Young, the executive director of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a group launched in October 2008 byMicrosoft and actress Angelina Jolie to help provide these children legal advice to make their case for U.S. protection.
The need for this type of service is indeed tremendous. Every year more than 8,000 children come to the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian and are arrested and placed in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. All face deportation.
“Add to that figure an untold number of children not apprehended who live ‘underground’ in secrecy and deprivation in a desperate attempt to evade authorities,” Young said.
The tragedy is compounded by the fact that these children lack resources, don’t know the language and have no legal representation.
The consequences can be devastating. Even if most have a legitimate claim to U.S. protection – fleeing horrific conditions such as coercion by gangs, domestic abuse or are victims of sex trafficking – many are sent back to a life of fear, persecution or worse because they are unable to effectively make their case on their own.
Unlike most Western countries, children in U.S. immigration court are not provided a lawyereven though the government is represented by one.
Here is where KIND is making a difference by working with private law firms and corporate legal departments to recruit and train lawyers to argue the cases of these unaccompanied children. These volunteer lawyers are part of a network KIND is creating to ensure that all unaccompanied children have free representation in immigration proceedings.
“Sometimes the children are granted asylum or a special juvenile visa, but a significant number are deported,” Young said. “We help support the child’s case. But even if the child has no option but to leave, we are working to make sure he or she leaves safely and is returned to a situation where his well-being is not in danger.”
“These are children that have to face the power of the U.S. government alone,” she said. “They have no resources, no parents, no language and no lawyer.”
BAXTER said that her firm has a strong commitment to pro bono work. Currently 11 of its lawyers in New York are working on four cases with KIND.
“These cases are time consuming and you want to do the best for these kids. For them these can be life or death issues,” Baxter said.
For Baxter working with KIND is something personal.
“They are children, you know, and they are fleeing terrible conditions,” she said. “They have gone through so much already in their early years. You can’t help but to be moved by their plight.”