Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Dan Goldman (D-NY-10), Maria Salazar (R-FL-27), Hillary Scholten (D-MI-3), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR-5) introduced bipartisan legislation in Congress to establish a Children’s Court within federal immigration courts to better ensure unaccompanied children receive fair access to U.S. protection and help relieve strain on the immigration court backlog nationwide. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), as a leading provider of legal services for unaccompanied children, strongly supports the measure, which embraces children’s best interests and well-being.
When unaccompanied children arrive in immigration court settings designed for adults with no guarantee of legal counsel, they often have no idea how to navigate immigration court or to pursue their claims for protection. In addition, immigration courts face a backlog exceeding 2 million cases, which inhibits the functioning of the immigration system and leaves many in prolonged legal uncertainty until their case is resolved. KIND welcomes the bipartisan Immigration Court Efficiency and Children’s Court Act of 2023 to improve fairness for children and streamline the handling of their cases.
In response to the bill’s introduction, KIND President Wendy Young said, “Immigration courts were designed for adults and do not recognize the unique vulnerability of unaccompanied children. Other judicial settings involving children create separate structures that acknowledge children’s developmental levels and challenging circumstances. Immigration courts should follow best practices from these settings to create a more child-friendly environment which improves their access to due process. We encourage Congress to pass this bipartisan legislation to increase courts’ efficiency in processing children’s cases while also ensuring the fundamental fairness that all children deserve throughout their proceedings.”
The Children’s Court established under the Act would include:
Specially trained personnel: To create new efficiencies that would streamline the court’s operations and strengthen due process, judges overseeing the Children’s Court would be specially trained and experienced in working with children, and the Department of Homeland Security would have a dedicated group of attorneys to handle children’s cases.
Child-appropriate adjudications: The Children’s Court would address common challenges in children’s proceedings by helping ensure children appear and fully participate in court and comprehend their rights and responsibilities.
Coordination with legal services organizations: The Children’s Court would coordinate with legal services providers and pro bono attorneys to improve adjudication fairness, minimize unneeded court time, and prevent delays in proceedings.
If you would like to speak with KIND Vice President for Policy and Advocacy Jennifer Podkul or other KIND legal experts about the bill and its implications for unaccompanied children, please contact Hannah Gavin at email@example.com or 202-765-4290.