October 27, 2017

By: Lily Hartmann, AI Justice Jonathan Demme Human Rights Advocate

I came to AI Justice in early September from Providence, RI, where I worked with refugee community leaders and other stakeholders to support refugee families who had already been given the right to protection here while in their home countries or refugee camps. But the situation for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers in the U.S. is much different; they must fight for legal protection within a system built out of draconian immigration laws. Although I have learned a lot about the immigration system in my time at AI Justice, my visit to Miami Immigration Court last week revealed the true nature of the uphill battle unaccompanied minors face in our legal system.

In the last case of the day, I watched a judge try to talk an 18-year old Guatemalan young man into voluntary deportation back to his home country. Without legal counsel, he was forced to navigate his hearing alone. Thankfully, the AI Justice attorney acting as “Friend of Court” that day stepped in and pleaded with the Judge to give the young man more time to find an attorney and prepare his case.

Another young boy needed a Mam interpreter in order to understand his court proceedings, but the Immigration Judge commented that he had not been able to track down indigenous language interpreters in almost a year. During Master Calendar hearings, all that is translated to minors who have lawyers are the three questions to confirm their name, address, and phone number, so they are left to understand very little about their case.

For many immigrants, it is a fight to defend one’s constitutional rights at every step of the process. But the immigration system works to tire the undocumented to the point that they decide to voluntarily return to their home countries. During all proceedings, a government lawyer is fighting for their removal.

What has become evident to me is that the immigration court and detention systems are not built to serve immigrants seeking justice in our country. So, it is critical that organizations like Americans for Immigrant Justice fight daily to protect the rights and safety of immigrants in our community. Our fight for a fair and effective system of justice for immigrants is more important now than ever.