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Child Clients Still Face Insurmountable Challenges

Published August 26, 2021

For most of 2020, children arriving alone at our border were expelled in violation of a federal law requiring that they have their day in court before removal. On February 2, 2021 the Biden administration reversed that directive and our local ORR facilities are once again filling up with children in need of legal services. Below are some details regarding our concerns.

  • July saw a record number (over 19,000) of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border. The large number of children combined with the federal government’s limited infrastructure has once again resulted in unaccompanied children being held in harsh conditions before being placed in permanent ORR facilities.
  • A large number of arriving children speak an Indigenous language. Many children have fled due to their ongoing marginalization and oppression at home. Their trauma is exacerbated in detention at the border, where there are few translators and requests for medical or other necessary services are frequently ignored. Our 2020 report, “Do My Rights Matter: The Mistreatment of Unaccompanied Children in CBP Custody,” includes stories from some of our Indigenous child clients.
  • Our immigration courts are on life support. There are currently over 1.3 million backlogged cases, more than double the number during the Obama administration, with 500 judges carrying about 3,000 cases each. In Miami immigration court alone, 46,208 children’s cases are pending; 25,740 children have no lawyers.
  • Challenges facing children in immigration court are overwhelming. Due to the overwhelming case backlog, children must accurately recount details of the reasons they fled years after arriving here, and a small discrepancy can be grounds to deny relief. Additionally, children are often re-traumatized by having to relive painful events that occurred in their home country years ago.
  • Access to counsel remains a critical issue. Attorneys representing unaccompanied children need expertise in handling cases before immigration, state and juvenile court judges. Even toddlers without lawyers must appear in immigration court, going up against government lawyers seeking to deport them. Without attorneys children have little to no chance of winning their case. We, along with other NGOs, are calling on our government to provide pro bono lawyers for vulnerable unaccompanied children.

Congress and the Biden administration have the ability to provide funds so unaccompanied minors have access to lawyers. Click here to find your representative and urge them to support this vital measure.


Thank you so much for your support,

Cheryl Little
Executive Director, AI Justice