Washington, DC—Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) today voiced strong opposition to H.R. 2 -Secure the Border Act of 2023, the House of Representatives’ immigration bill currently moving toward a May floor vote. The group notes this legislation would decimate protections for unaccompanied children and render them prey to a multitude of harms.
The proposed measure would eliminate bedrock bipartisan statutes that safeguard unaccompanied children from human trafficking, sexual abuse, and extreme violence. Among other provisions, it would deprive vulnerable children of attorneys as they seek safety; detain unaccompanied children in jail-like Customs and Border Protection facilities for up to 30 days—10 times longer than permitted under current law; and replace the legal process currently available to most unaccompanied children with a cursory screening by a border official that places children at great risk from human traffickers and other bad actors.
“As we speak, thousands of vulnerable children in our communities depend on their attorneys to protect them and to shield them from exploitation and other harm,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “By banning government-funded counsel for such children, the House package would preclude kids from the support of their best, and in many cases, only advocates. Children of all ages throughout the United States would be forced to face a complex and adversarial legal system alone.
Legal representation of unaccompanied children also enhances the efficiency of the immigration court system, which is currently facing a two million-plus case backlog. Attorneys help prevent postponement of hearings otherwise necessary to afford children an opportunity to find representation in the first place. And because lawyers play a critical role in explaining immigration court procedures to children, they make hearings more streamlined, preserving EOIR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement resources.
It is absurd to expect unaccompanied children to somehow afford their own counsel. And it is imperative to recognize that private sector pro bono attorneys in this highly specialized area of the law rely on the training and support of organizations that use government funding to maximize pro bono engagement. The House proposal is on the wrong side of the American public, 77 percent of whom want to expand, not restrict, legal counsel for unaccompanied children who can’t afford it—including 68 percent of conservatives
“In addition to depriving children of attorneys, holding children in jail-like facilities for 10 times longer than they are currently held and denying them any meaningful opportunity to seek protection at the U.S.-Mexico border violates basic child welfare principles. Stripping children of their only hope for a safe future is a line that the United States cannot and must not cross. We call upon House Members to reject this package,” Young concluded.
For more information or to speak with a KIND expert, contact Megan McKenna at email@example.com.