The struggle of the non – profit protection of immigrant minors.
The Obama administration says there are fewer and fewer minors crossing the u.s.-mexico border. The speed of the deportation hearings, however, has accelerated. This poses a new challenge: the lack of public interest lawyers representing immigrant children in immigration courts.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
When the President proposed his next immigration policy, the government said the number of unaccompanied minors across the southwestern border was declining. For the tens of thousands who have already crossed, their deportation hearings have accelerated. As NPR’s Richard Gonzales reports, this is another challenge. Public welfare lawyers are in short supply.
Richard gonzales wired: outside the San Francisco immigration court, a group of young volunteer lawyers prepared to enter their first deportation hearing with dozens of immigrant children.
CLAIRE FAWCETT: no one represents these people. In an immigration suit, you have the right to a lawyer, but you must pay for your lawyer. As a result, most of the incoming minors live with their families, but their incomes are low.
GONZALES: Claire Fawcett is a lawyer at Centro Legal DE la Raza in Oakland. She and her colleagues will give free advice to minors and their families about their rights in court.
FAWCETT: we try to give them as much help as possible, and then try to submit their cases to organizations that can help them.
GONZALES: inside the courtroom, a volunteer lawyer suggested a person present with his 16-year-old son. A few minutes later, judge Carol a. King greeted him and several other families in Spanish. She assured them that they would receive a fair trial. The man nodded appreciatively. Though it is not allowed in the courtroom recordings, but then the man told me that his son rogue el Salvador escape from el Salvador in June, after the robber put forward the offer to him – join us or death. Still, he was relieved that the judge told him he had to attend the hearing again in October, which could give him time to find a lawyer. But that’s the tricky part. Immigration is a specialized legal field, and the number of asylum seekers is unprecedented, making it increasingly difficult to find lawyers. Bianca Sierra Wolff is the executive director of Centro Legal DE la Raza.
BIANCA SIERRA WOLFF: and it’s crazy. The people who provide the services are your nonprofit organizations. We’re already in bondage. We didn’t get money from the government. But we are at the forefront of this crisis.
GONZALES: the complexity of this issue is the speed of these hearings. Normally, asylum applications may take up to a year to go to court. Now, the immigration judge has been instructed to hold deportation hearings in 21 days. Critics call it fast tracking.
Gonzales: Dana Lima is President of the national association of immigration judges. Last week, she urged the government to stop the rapid tracking of deportation hearings. When lawyers represent non-citizens, he says, asylum applications are better prepared and studied, and the process moves faster. Although minors have the right to hire lawyers, they must hire their own lawyers. In the past decade, nine out of 10 unrepresented minors have been deported or left voluntarily without lawyers, according to government figures. The White House recognizes the shortage of lawyers. Last week, vice President Joe biden told an audience of constitutional scholars and immigration activists that he hoped some private law firms would strengthen and provide more free aid.
Vice President Joe biden: we need lawyers. We need trained lawyers to determine whether these children meet the refugee status criteria.