It makes sense that any individual who is facing legal matters and needs to go to court would most likely fare better with an attorney than without one. That is definitely the case for the immigrant children who are required to stand before an immigration judge. Since October of 2013, there have been an estimated 57,000 undocumented children apprehended by Border Patrol agents attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Minors who are traveling from Central America are required to have a hearing prior to any removal proceedings.
A new study, discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, found that “children who enter the U.S. [without documentation] have a significantly better chance of gaining the right to stay if they have a lawyer by their side in immigration court.” The report shows that almost one-half of all children who were represented by lawyers “eventually won permission to remain.” In contrast, nine out of 10 who did not have legal counsel were removed from the U.S. and sent back to their home countries.
An issue has arisen, however, with the recent surge in unaccompanied immigrant children attempting to enter the U.S. near the Rio Grande Valley in Texas without the proper documentation. Some members of Congress and other politicians are calling for an “expedited deportation process” as a way to deal with the current situation. However, would that interfere with the law that requires immigration hearings for certain immigrant children?
Surveys are being done to gauge public opinion in the U.S. According to one finding, just about “half of adults believe the legal process for dealing with Central American children who enter the U.S. [without documentation] should be accelerated.” These adults feel this way “even if it means some children eligible for asylum are deported.” This specific survey was conducted by the Pew Hispanic Research Center from July 8 to July 14 of this year and surveyed more than 1,800 adults.
Another issue is the fact that immigration courts, judges, and lawyers have been overwhelmed for years and this recent increase in undocumented children apprehended at the border has only exacerbated the problem. According to U.S. law, children in immigration courts are not entitled to have legal counsel, but judges have been known to delay hearings for children who may find an attorney through advocacy groups. However, there are not nearly enough attorneys for all the children who have recently been processed.
It's also important to remember that judges prefer children to be represented by an attorney because it helps speed up the process. Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a judge in San Francisco, said that “children have no way to assess what information might be relevant for the judge to evaluate their case, or might be afraid to disclose it.”
Recently, it seems children have fared better in immigration courts, whether they have been represented by an attorney or not, but those who do have legal counsel will do much better. In fiscal year 2013, “78% of children with attorneys won the right to stay in the U.S. That was true for only 25% of those without attorneys.”