In recent weeks, conservative lawmakers and anti-immigrant hawks have repeated a common refrain over the current unaccompanied minors crisis: that 90 percent of children who are released to family while they await immigration processing never show up for their immigration hearings. Children are being let loose into the country and fading into the shadows of the nation’s undocumented population, so the story goes.
In fact, for children who have attorneys, the opposite is true. Indeed, 92.5 percent of children with attorneys are present at immigration hearings, according to numbers released this month by the Transnational Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Just 27.5 percent of children without an attorney succeed in showing up.
In immigration court, adults and children alike do not have the right to an attorney. What that means is children who’ve arrived in the country by themselves and who do not speak English are being asked to navigate the notoriously labyrinthine immigration system on their own. An attorney makes a difference and can ensure that a child is able to properly make his or her case in front of an immigration judge. It is a key reason why in early June the Obama administration announced a $200 million Americorps effort to provide children with attorneys. Still, in early July civil rights groups in Washington and California filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of children with upcoming deportation hearings, AP reported. In the lawsuit, advocates demanded that those children be equipped with attorneys before they head in to see an immigration judge who could decide their life’s fate.