Navigating the American court system without an attorney is hard. Imagine what it’s like for an immigrant child seeking refuge in the U.S. — alone.
HUNDREDS of immigrant children without their parents are seeking refuge in Washington state. They are among the tens of thousands of young people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last year, depicted in stunning news photos.
The migration surge has subsided, but children are still fleeing conditions in three of the very violent countries: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Whatever their circumstances, those already here have survived an arduous journey and need fair treatment in the U.S. immigration system. In some cases, the answer might be asylum. For others, it could mean deportation.
The problem is most of these kids do not speak English and are not getting a fair shot at humanitarian assistance. In 2014, a whopping 91 percent of them appeared at removal proceedings without legal representation, according to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
KIND, a legal advocacy nonprofit supported by Microsoft, met in Seattle last week and shed light on some disturbing trends:
• The average age of children entering the U.S. by themselves is 12. However, judges have presided over cases involving unaccompanied toddlers and infants.
• Families send their children north to protect them from extortion, kidnapping, rape and other forms of violence ravaging Central America.
• Nationally, children without a lawyer are five times more likely to be deported to countries they’ve just fled.
During a nine-year period beginning in 2005, only 4 percent of children without an attorney were allowed to stay in Washington, according to Ferguson. Meanwhile 40 percent of those with a lawyer were able to stay.
He cited one horrific case in which an unrepresented boy was deported to Guatemala after warning a judge he would be targeted by gangs in his hometown. He was killed one month later.
The threats to young lives are real, which is why the attorney general is wisely calling on more attorneys to work pro bono.
Scared, vulnerable children need help understanding their basic rights.
For more information or to donate to the cause, visit supportkind.org.