Kids Forced to Be Their Own Lawyers in Immigration Court


The President Donald Trump administration is forcing kids as young as three  to represent themselves in immigration courts

While activists, lawyers and officials are fighting the government to reunite kids and their families after the president signed an executive order to halt the policy, it was reported the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which oversees the deportation of unauthorised immigrants, has been ordering the youngsters to appear.

“We were representing a three-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child – in the middle of the hearing – started climbing up on the table,” Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Centre in Los Angeles, told Kaiser Health News (KHN). “It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.”

She said parents had usually been tried along with young children and have explained the often-violent circumstances which led them to seek asylum in the US. Most of the migrants arriving at the US’s southern border have come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, three nations with some of the deadliest gang violence in the world.

Yet as a result of Mr Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy, they are facing immigration proceedings without their parents alongside them.

“The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” she said.

A group of protesters confronts Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao about separating families at the border

Ruby Powers, the founding immigration lawyer with the Houston-based Powers Law Group, said her company had been interviewing parents who had been split from their children.

She said in some cases, the adults preparing for what is called a “credible fear” interview with a judge to explain why they feel they cannot return to their own country, either did not know what had happened to their children or had learned just a day or two earlier.

“I don’t think these people are in the right mind set [for an interview]if they only recently found out where their children were,” she told The Independent.

Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokesperson, directed questions to the Department of Justice. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the DoJ’s Communications and Legislative Affairs Division, confirmed that toddlers were appearing in court without their parents.

“Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) records show that there are respondents in removal proceedings who are juveniles, some as young as three -years-old, who do not currently have any attorney of record on file,” she said in a statement.

“Please note that this does not mean that these children will appear before an immigration judge alone or will be unrepresented during their proceedings. All immigration judges provide a list of pro bono legal service providers to respondents during the initial hearing and many of the respondents who are initially unrepresented obtain representation as removal proceedings progress.

She added: “Additionally, child respondents may be in proceedings with a parent or guardian who is also in proceedings. Moreover, unaccompanied children may either have a sponsor, guardian, or “Friend of the Court” with them during these proceedings. Friends of the Court help the respondent navigate courtroom procedures.”


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