ABA Midyear

ABA urges adequate legal representation for unaccompanied immigrant minors

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Mary Ryan, co-chair of the ABA’s Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants, spoke passionately to the House of Delegates Monday about the plight of the youngest who find themselves in removal proceedings.

Ryan was advocating the passage of Resolution 113, supporting appointed counsel for unaccompanied children and special training for state and other courts that hear related cases.

The issue gained currency last year as the numbers of unaccompanied minors swelled, in response to the growth of uncontrolled crime in Central America. No one in immigration removal proceedings is entitled to a court-appointed attorney because they are not charged with crimes. As a result, children as young as 5 are on their own in immigration court.

The results are not good. Ryan said minors without lawyers are able to stay in the country just 15 percent of the time; with representation, that jumps to 73 percent. Last year, current ABA President William Hubbard appointed the Working Group, which is recruiting and training pro bono attorneys.

“These children face insurmountable barriers on their own,” Ryan said. “This not only is a failure of the due process rights of these children but has a very negative impact on the immigration [court system].”

Resolution 113 also calls attention to a problem state courts can create for juveniles seeking relief from deportation. One avenue of relief from deportation is to gain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a federal category that requires a juvenile court to find the child has been abused, neglected or abandoned by at least one parent. Some courts decline to make this finding, believing that they are being inappropriately required to rule on immigration law.

The resolution passed without opposition.

As the ABA Journal reported in December, a pending lawsuit in Seattle federal court argues that unaccompanied immigrant minors have a legal right to appointed counsel.

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