Bills Would Provide Lawyers for Children in Immigration Limbo

Assistant Director of Communications

July 15, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Multiple bills introduced Thursday would address a serious problem with our approach to refugees and asylum seekers: children forced to represent themselves in court.

Last week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “heard arguments on a landmark case testing the children’s right to counsel in deportation hearings,” but did not “take on Congress and statutory rules that have made it so difficult for the children to get their day in federal court,” as Politico reports.

But the new bills in both houses of Congress include provisions for children to get legal counsel.

On Thursday, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Eliot Engel (D-New York) introduced the “Secure the Northern Triangle Act” in the House. It was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

This bill aims to provide a coordinated regional response to effectively manage the violence and humanitarian crisis in Central America, and it includes a provision requiring legal counsel for children.

“The Refugee Protection Act” has a similar provision. It was introduced Thursday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) in the Senate and Lofgren in the House.

“We cannot expect children to navigate a complex and difficult immigration court system that even adults struggle with,” said Jacinta Ma, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Immigration Forum. “Too often, our current system lets fall through the cracks the very people we should be making strides to protect.

“The bills recently introduced in the House and Senate addressing refugees and asylum seekers would provide children with lawyers so they have a fair opportunity to present their legitimate cases and obtain legal relief to which they are entitled.”