BY ELBY HERNANDEZ – The Obama administration recently offered $9 million in legal services to help represent unaccompanied minor children in deportation proceedings.1 This move comes after the administration placed these children in expedited deportation proceedings.2 These proceedings are placed on “rocket dockets”, which put the children’s cases on a fast-track to be quickly ruled on.3
About 60,000 children have entered into the United States since October 2013.4 The children, many of whom are coming from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, are often escaping horrific situations in their home countries.5 These children have been beaten, raped, or have seen their friends and family killed.6 They flee the violence and take the perilous journey into this country with the chance of encountering more danger along the way, such as getting caught up in the gang violence along the Mexican-American border or being sexually or physically abused.7
Often times, these children have merely weeks to obtain a lawyer, and as many as 60% of the children are going to court unrepresented.7 According to an analysis of cases by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, almost half of children with attorneys were allowed to remain in the country whereas only 10% of those without representation were allowed to stay.8
The administration, which has referred to these children as “our kids”, seems to be sending out a mixed message as to how to deal with this pressing humanitarian issue.9 The move to hire lawyers, while admirable, seems like an attempt to alleviate the problem of having put these children in expedited proceedings in the first place. The immigration system is dysfunctional, and victimizing these children even more by placing their cases on these rocket dockets is troubling considering the fact that children are an incredibly vulnerable group. These children need a fair chance at being able to obtain representation and the current system is not giving them the opportunity to do so. The Obama administration has to do more to protect these children instead of placing them in harm’s way once again.
- Niraj Chokshi, Obama Administration to Provide $9 million In Legal Help To Undocumented Children, The Washington Post (October 2, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/10/02/obama-administration-to-provide-9-million-in-legal-help-to-undocumented-children/.
- John Fritze, Immigration Court Speeds Review of Cases Involving Children, Baltimore Sun (August 20, 2014), http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-08-20/news/bs-md-immigration-rocket-docket-20140820_1_immigration-cases-u-s-immigration-catholic-charities/.
- Shannon Gupta, Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors at High Risk For Trauma, Experts Say, Fox News (October 21, 2014), http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/10/21/unaccompanied-immigrant-minors-at-high-risk-for-trauma-experts-say/.
- Immigration Lawyers Needed For Thousands of Undocumented Migrant Children, http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2014/09/28/immigration-lawyers-needed-for-thousands-undocumented-migrant-children/AP (last visited October 29, 2014).
- Josh Lederman, Joe Biden on Minors At Border: ‘These Are Our Kids’, AP (August 06, 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/06/biden-central-america_n_5655794.html.
Elby Hernandez is a 2016 Staff Editor of the Race and Social Justice Law Review.