U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (D-IL-03), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-02) and Norma Torres (D-CA-35) led members of Congress in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urging them to expand access to legal counsel for unaccompanied migrant children. In the letter, the lawmakers call for the newly reinvigorated White House Legal Aid Roundtable (LAIR) and Department of Justice (DOJ) access-to-justice programs to include expanding representation for unaccompanied migrant children as one of their central priorities.
“Without legal representation, it is nearly impossible for unaccompanied children to navigate the U.S. immigration system,” said the lawmakers in the letter. “To ensure we advance access to representation and justice for all, including the most vulnerable, we respectfully urge the administration to expand representation for unaccompanied migrant children as one of LAIR and the DOJ’s access-to-justice function’s central priorities.”
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), the federal government must ensure all unaccompanied children have counsel to represent them in legal proceedings to the greatest extent practicable. However, recent data has shown that more than half of unaccompanied children lack representation. To further promote counsel for all unaccompanied children, the lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to make full representation for this vulnerable population a priority for LAIR and the DOJ to include multiple recommendations in its access-to-justice plan to aim for full representation for unaccompanied children in all immigration proceedings.
In the letter, the lawmakers call on the administration to not only assign a high-ranking HHS official that has purview over children’s legal services to the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, but to also improve transparency through annual reporting on the number of unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. Additionally, the lawmakers urge the DOJ to promote child-friendly court rooms that permit child advocates to assist children, and engage with child welfare experts to develop child-friendly adjudication practices that consider the child’s mental health during what can be a traumatic experience.
A copy of the letter can be found here.
Today’s urgent call to action is endorsed by 37 national and local organizations, including: Advocating Opportunity; Amnesty International USA; Center for Gender & Refugee Studies; Center for Law for Social Policy (CLASP); Children’s Defense Fund; Church World Service; Corazon Latino; Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project; First Focus on Children; Florida Association for Bilingual Education; Florida PTA; Freedom Network USA; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS); Human Rights First; International Rescue Committee; Justice Action Center; Justice At Last; Kids in Need of Defense; Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services; Make the Road New York; Migration and Refugee Services; Mujeres Latinas Impulsando Mujeres Latinas, Inc.; National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners; National Immigration Law Center; National Partnership for New Americans; New York Immigration Coalition; Oxfam America; Power U Center for Social Change; Public Counsel; Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA); Sant La, Haitian Neighborhood; Sunshine State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (SSTESOL) of Florida; UnidosNow, Ic.; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration; Witness at the Border; Women’s Refugee Commission; Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
The letter is also signed by U.S. Representatives: Nanette Diaz Barragán, Donald S. Beyer Jr., Suzanne Bonamici, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D., Joaquin Castro, Suzan DelBene, Mark DeSaulnier, Adriano Espaillat, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Raúl M. Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Pramila Jayapal, Mondaire Jones, Derek Kilmer, James P. McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mark Pocan, Linda T. Sánchez, Kim Schrier, M.D., Rep. Greg Stanton, Dina Titus, Juan Vargas