Immigration Law

Additional federal resources are needed to provide representation for unaccompanied minors, ABA says

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Pro bono efforts, alone, are not a complete solution to the need for counsel for unaccompanied immigrant children, ABA President William C. Hubbard says in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

Hubbard’s letter (PDF) praises Biden for taking a leadership role on the issue and references a White House meeting in which the vice president appealed to law firms, bar associations and nonprofit legal service providers to increase pro bono efforts on behalf of the children. “We are in full agreement,” the letter says, “that all parties benefit when children, due to their unique vulnerabilities, are competently represented by counsel in adversarial proceedings.” A press release has a summary.

The letter says the ABA recently created a Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants to recruit, train, and mentor additional pro bono lawyers.

“We want to emphasize, however, that pro bono representation cannot provide a complete solution to this problem,” Hubbard says in the letter. “Due to the large number of children lacking counsel, as well as many other competing civil justice pro bono needs, the demand for pro bono services outweighs the available resources. Addressing this situation will require the commitment of additional resources and initiatives from the federal government as well as from the nonprofit and private sectors.”

The letter recommended these steps:

–Though pro bono representation should be used when possible, government-appointed counsel should be provided if it is not available. The ABA applauds $9 million in recently announced funding to support legal representation, but it will cover only a small percentage of pending cases, the letter says. “We encourage enhancing these efforts and establishing other similar initiatives,” the letter says. The letter also says the government should continue to provide resources to a “Legal Access Project” that ensures detained immigrant children are taught about their rights and given free legal screenings.

–The Executive Office for Immigration Review should make an affirmative statement urging immigration judges to give continuances that allow time for unaccompanied children to obtain representation.

–The administration should work with Congress to increase funding for the immigration court system, where the number of pending cases are at an all-time high.

Meanwhile the ABA’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division is joining with Kids in Need of Defense to train lawyers and law students on the basics of representing of unaccompanied immigrant children. The training will take place at a GP Solo conference on Saturday in San Antonio, according to a press release.

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