New York Times (Opinion)
By Mary Meg McCarthy and Wendy Young
March 10, 2016
To the Editor:
Re “Migrant Children, Voiceless in Court” (editorial, March 8):
The specter of a young child being ushered into immigration court alone is one that violates the principles of fairness and due process that are the foundation of meaningful justice.
The American Bar Association has long urged that government-appointed counsel be provided to unaccompanied children when necessary. To expect a child, no matter her age, to understand immigration law and represent herself in court is not realistic.
Legal aid organizations and the pro bono community have worked to increase access to counsel, but the need far outweighs the capacity. Statistics show that 57 percent of unaccompanied children are not represented in immigration court.
This not only harms the children, but it also adversely affects the court system. The presence of counsel enhances the efficiency of court proceedings and ensures that children appear at their hearings.
Instead of seeking to further restrict their rights, Congress and the administration, in partnership with the legal community, should increase efforts to provide representation to unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings.
President, American Bar Association
To the Editor:
It is alarming that a government lawyer responsible for training immigration judges who hear unaccompanied children’s cases stated that the small children who flee to the United States alone to escape violence and seek safety are equipped to represent themselves in the adversarial immigration court system.
Every day, we see these children in our offices. Elementary-school children and young teenagers struggle to share basic information about the trauma that caused them to flee to the United States, much less provide the detailed narrative necessary to substantiate a claim for asylum or other immigration relief. The scars on their bodies and reports from other witnesses attest to harm they do not yet have words to describe.
Many of these children are refugees who would never know to define themselves as such without the aid of lawyers who spend countless hours and immeasurable resources piecing together a history the child is unable to tell. Lawyers help children navigate the process, make sure that they are finding the social services they need and make court hearings more efficient.
Denying children the right to counsel in life-or-death cases puts their lives at risk and betrays justice.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com