Imagine that you are 6 years old, do not speak English, are wearing clothes a few sizes too big for you and a sign around your neck that reads "Juan" which is your first name, and you are in a court of law alone - except for the social worker who cannot represent you.
What is your crime? You and your parents risked the uncertain dangers of a trip from your home to the United States to escape the certain dangers of the gangs, drug traffickers and other criminals that terrified that life. You are illegal. Now you have to answer for that decision.
Julia Preston writing for the NYTimes, "More Young Illegal Immigrants Face Deportation," pulls back the curtain on a side of life many of us know nothing about: deportation of children without legal representation. Excerpt.
"Immigration courts in this South Texas border town and across the country are confronting an unexpected surge of children, some of them barely school age, who traveled here without parents and were caught as they tried to cross illegally into the United States.
The young people, mostly from Mexico and Central America, ride to the border on the roofs of freight trains or the backs of buses. They cross the Rio Grande on inner tubes, or hike for days through extremes of heat and chill in Arizona deserts. The smallest children, like Juan, are most often brought by smugglers.
The youths pose troubling difficulties for American immigration courts. Unlike in criminal or family courts, in immigration court there is no right to a lawyer paid by the government for people who cannot afford one. And immigration law contains few protections specifically for minors. So even a child as young as Juan has to go before an immigration judge — confronting a prosecutor and trying to fight deportation — without the help of a lawyer, if one is not privately provided.
So far this year, more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed in deportation proceedings, nearly double last year’s numbers.
Young migrants say they are fleeing sharply escalating criminal violence in their home countries. Federal agencies have scrambled to muster adequate detention facilities, while legal groups try to find lawyers to represent them. Judges, for their part, have struggled to offer fair hearings to penniless youths who speak little English and often do not even understand why they are in court.
The influx has heightened concerns that young people without legal help may not be able to obtain even the most basic justice.
“It is almost impossible for children to receive relief in immigration court on their own,” said Meredith Linsky, the director of the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, known as ProBAR, a nonprofit organization that defends young migrants in the region. “The reality is they cannot comprehend the system and what is being asked of them.”"
Say what you will about immigration. These are children. What kind of justice is this?
Law firms seeking opportunities for pro bono efforts may well look to these cases. The American Society of Trial Consultants Pro Bono Committee would be a good place to get some assistance.
For those asking what's the use of one case among so many, here's one story with one happy ending: a chance to work, to contribute, to serve. Who are we to say "no" to such determination.? Excerpt.
"Sometimes, a Victory
When children appear in court without lawyers, it can be distressing for them and for judges. One judge tried to put a boy at ease by asking playfully to share a bit of the child’s lunch. Thinking that he was supposed to have brought food for the judge, the boy burst into tears.
Migrants who have gotten help from lawyers have won immigration cases they could never have attempted alone. Eduín Rodríguez, now 18, was abandoned by both parents in Honduras. He rode the tops of freight trains across Mexico and swam the Rio Grande to Hidalgo, Tex.
Caught and sent to a shelter, Eduín made contact with ProBAR lawyers, who realized he was a strong candidate for a special immigration status for abused or neglected juveniles.
The legal battle wound from immigration court to Texas family court and back to immigration court. By the end, not only Eduín had won a permanent resident’s green card. The lawyers also discovered that his sister, Cintia, who is one year older, had made the same journey before him and was living illegally in Texas. Through Eduín’s case, she also became a legal resident.
The siblings support themselves on their own in Harlingen. They share a small apartment, and Eduín has been working full time, helping his sister while she went to school. Cintia graduated from high school in May with honors and also completed a nurse aide program at a local community college.
“I left Honduras because I didn’t want to be a loser,” said Cintia, who is now working part time at a supermarket while she continues her nursing training. She plans to enlist in the Navy.
“It really was worth it,” Cintia said, “all the pain I went through, the hunger on the trip, the thirst. I’m a successful person now because I graduated and I’m going to college.”
Flashing a smile, she displayed her most vital documents: her Texas nurse aide certificate and her green card.
“Thanks to God I’m here legally,” she said.""