A Call to Action on Pro Bono Representation of Children in Immigration Proceedings
On July 16, 2014, I was privileged to participate in a round table discussion organized by California Attorney General Kamala Harris to discuss the pressing issue of providing legal services for unaccompanied immigrant children. The participants included Attorney General Harris, California State Senate President pro Tempore-elect Kevin de León, California State Senator and Latino Caucus Chair Ricardo Lara, California State Bar President Luis J. Rodriguez, and key stakeholders from across the State, including representatives from public interest law firms, private law firms and philanthropic organizations.
We discussed first the extent of the humanitarian crisis facing the nation, and California in particular, as a result of dramatic increase in unaccompanied children entering the country. More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border since October of 2013, and the Los Angeles area is in the top 5 destinations for these children. The large majority the children are fleeing gang violence in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The conditions they face on their journey to the United States are equally horrific, including not only dangerous traveling conditions, but also physical and sexual abuse by the coyotes their families pay to transport them – indeed, many of the coyotes are affiliated with the same gangs the children are fleeing.
Attorney General Harris then led a discussion regarding what each of the key stakeholders could do to help the situation. She noted that her key focus is ensuring that each unaccompanied minor receive the due process to which they are entitled under U.S. law. The statistics show that 9 of 10 children who lack legal representation in their immigration proceedings are deported. The deportation rate drops to 50% when the child is represented by counsel. After recounting these statistics, Attorney General Harris put out a specific request: she asked private law firms to donate at least 500 pro bono hours to legal representation of these children in their immigration proceedings. The public interest group Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is offering legal training and support to private lawyers who wish to get involved. Other public interest groups, including Public Counsel and the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project among others, also offer pro bono opportunities and substantive support to volunteer lawyers seeking to represent unaccompanied minors. Please visit the websites of these organizations if you would like to get involved.
Stacy Horth-Neubert is WLALA Second Vice-President. She is counsel in Skadden's Litigation Group where she serves as Pro Bono Coordinator for the LA office.