Washington, DC—KIND lauds the Biden Administration for its historic commitment to ensuring legal representation of all unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. In its Fiscal Year 2023 budget request to Congress, the Administration is seeking a significant increase in funding for legal representation of unaccompanied children – with a goal of achieving representation of all unaccompanied children by Fiscal Year 2027. Many, if not most unaccompanied children, from toddlers to teenagers, face immigration court without an attorney in proceedings that determine the course of their lives, including their basic safety and well-being.
“The Biden Administration’s request is monumental in the lifesaving impact it would have on thousands of uniquely vulnerable children as well as in its commitment to fundamental fairness and justice,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “It is a recognition of how desperately children alone in immigration proceedings need and deserve counsel by their side to help them through a process that is daunting, frightening, and nearly impossible for a child to navigate. It is now imperative that Congress answer the Administration’s call.”
Representation is essential to ensuring that we do not send children back to the very harm that caused them to flee. Among the world’s most vulnerable groups, unaccompanied children seek safety in the United States from extreme violence, including gender-based violence, exploitation, and human trafficking. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)’s most recent available data, covering completed immigration court cases from FY 2018 through the first half of FY 2021 reveals that immigration judges were 97 times less likely to grant relief to unaccompanied children without counsel than unaccompanied children with counsel.
The provision of counsel to unaccompanied children also prevents waste of judicial and other government resources by helping screen out inapplicable forms of protection, minimizing unneeded court time, and averting hearing postponements that would otherwise be necessary to afford children an opportunity to obtain counsel.
In addition, attorneys promote orderly court operations by helping ensure children’s appearances. From FY 2005 through June FY 2019, 98 percent of children with attorneys appeared for court. With the immigration court backlog exceeding 1.5 million cases, the enhanced efficiency achieved by legal representation is needed more than ever.
Funding for legal counsel for unaccompanied children is overwhelmingly backed by the American public. October 2021 polling by Hart Research found that 75 percent of the American public believe that counsel should be provided to all unaccompanied children in proceedings. This support extends across partisan and ideological lines.
“KIND’s youngest client was four months old, and we have worked with children of all ages to ensure they have a fair chance to make their case in immigration court. We should not be a country that forces children of any age to face potentially life-altering proceedings without assistance. We call upon Congress to mirror President Biden’s commitment by appropriating funds in Fiscal 2023 and future fiscal years to provide legal representation of all unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings,” Young added.
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