Washington, DC— Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is praising the introduction of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2021, legislation by Senator Mazie Hirono to ensure fundamental fairness in the nation’s immigration system and protect children seeking safety in the United States. The bill guarantees legal representation for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings so they can receive a full and fair opportunity to apply for potentially life-saving humanitarian relief. Over 25 senators are original co-sponsors of the legislation, including Senator Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Not only are children entitled to due process of law, but they deserve the protection and care we would want extended to any child,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “In virtually every other area of U.S. law, we recognize that children require additional protections because of their unique needs and reduced developmental capacity. However, in immigration proceedings, there is no law requiring legal representation for unaccompanied children who cannot obtain it independently, regardless of age. All children, wherever they were born, deserve a heightened level of protection in our legal, judicial, and adjudicative processes.”
KIND, which has worked with clients as young as six months old, notes that more than half of unaccompanied children do not have attorneys in their immigration proceedings. These kids stand alone to defend themselves in front of an immigration judge. Their opposing counsel is a government attorney who has been trained in U.S. immigration law and is often arguing for the child’s deportation.
Providing counsel for unaccompanied children has decisive support. A recently completed national survey of registered voters by Hart Research on behalf of KIND found that 77 percent of the electorate, including 86 percent of liberals, 80 percent of moderates, and 68 percent of conservatives, believe that unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings should be provided an attorney if they cannot afford one.
The impact of having an attorney by a child’s side is clear. The most recent data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review reveals that immigration judges were 97 times less likely to grant legal relief to unaccompanied children without counsel compared to those with counsel. Counsel also improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the immigration system. Attorneys can advise children of their legal options and inform them when they may not be eligible for relief under U.S. law. Children are also more likely to remain within the system: represented children have a 98 percent appearance rate in immigration court.
“Congress has an opportunity to align our nation’s commitment to due process with the needs of vulnerable immigrant and refugee children seeking safety. KIND urges Congress to pass the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act and ensure that we give children a fighting chance as they navigate our nation’s complex immigration system,” Young added.
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