Editors: Give child migrants their day in court—and a lawyer

“I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” Sometimes it requires a ludicrous statement to call attention to a ludicrous system. In this case, the statement was uttered by Jack Weil, a U.S. immigration court judge, who was speaking about minors who appear in his court without a parent or a lawyer. They are among the thousands of unaccompanied minors who appear in immigration courts without legal counsel. Though nonprofit agencies and pro-bono attorneys have tried to shoulder the load, 42 percent of children detained by the U.S. immigration system must fend for themselves in deportation hearings. This greatly increases the likelihood that they will be deported back to their home country.

In a special report compiled in 2015 in conjunction with all 13 Jesuit law schools in the United States, Jesuit Refugee Service identified three important reforms targeted at vulnerable migrants. The first is now the subject of a proposed Senate bill. The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act would guarantee a lawyer to unaccompanied minors detained by the U.S. government. Short of such a guarantee, the White House should continue to push for additional funding for programs that provide legal representation to children and families seeking asylum. Finally, the process of “expedited processing” for children and families should end. Because of the large number of migrants who entered the United States in 2014 and 2015, deportation cases were fast-tracked, making it more difficult for lawyers to prepare and for immigrants to locate the resources available to them. Many of these children fled violence or gang life in their home countries and have a legitimate case to make for asylum. Children in detention deserve more than just temporary food and shelter. They deserve a real chance at a new life.

Advertisement
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

James Comey is perhaps a better Niebuhrian than Niebuhr himself.
Drew Christiansen, S.J.November 20, 2017
“Not everything that is technically possible or feasible is therefore ethically acceptable.”
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 20, 2017
I have been trying with all my heart—with all my mind, with all my soul, to live peaceably with a terror that has been grafted onto me.
Robert I. CraigNovember 20, 2017
Image: iStock, (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA) Composite: America
What ought to be the Ignatian contribution to the fight for racial justice, given our mission and our values?
Bryan N. MassingaleNovember 20, 2017