In the United States, many children in immigration court proceedings are unrepresented and must present their case to stay in the country without the help of a lawyer. A November 2014 report analyzing U.S. immigration court data found that about 43,000 children — two-thirds of the children with pending cases — were unrepresented. Meanwhile, the opposing side, the U.S. government, is always represented by an attorney.
Children’s immigration cases are complex and often require coordination between the immigration court, state family courts, and different agencies of the Department of Homeland Security. The complexity of U.S. laws, the ages and inexperience of the children, and the adversarial nature of the proceedings all work together to increase the likelihood that a judge will make the wrong decision and deport an unrepresented child who is in need of protection and eligible for asylum or other forms of humanitarian relief.
Children, especially those who don’t speak English, should not have to represent themselves in U.S. immigration courts. Lawyers are needed to protect against bad decisions that can have huge, life-altering consequences for the children involved.
Unsurprisingly, studies show that having legal representation in immigration proceedings makes a huge difference in case outcomes. According to a 2014 study, a child with a lawyer has a 73 percent chance of succeeding on their case versus only a 15 percent chance if they do not have a lawyer.
If this is true, why don’t the children automatically have a lawyer?
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