WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined a group of 12 Senators, led by Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) in introducing the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act to provide unaccompanied children with access to legal representation when they appear in removal proceedings before an immigration judge.
“The right to legal counsel is a central tenet of our justice system. Yet unaccompanied immigrant children as young as 3 and 4 years old are expected to navigate the cold complexities of our legal system with no one to help them through the process,” said Blumenthal. “The consequences of sending these children back to the countries they are fleeing can be literally life-and-death. We have a moral obligation to ensure that that decision is made with due process, including access to an attorney.”
“Right now, thousands of children flee violence in their communities and come to the United States in search of safety and a better life. Many of these kids wind up being deported without ever even talking to a lawyer because the government is not required to provide counsel. Our country should be ashamed,” said Murphy. “Congress needs to take action immediately to ensure that every child who comes to this country alone is not forced to defend themselves in immigration court. I urge my colleagues to pass the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act.”
“Unaccompanied children are seeking a better life away from violence, abuse, and terror in their home countries,” said Hirono. “The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act provides these children with an opportunity to tell their stories and assert what legal rights they have. These children should not be expected to represent themselves alone against the federal government, as they are some of the most vulnerable people in our legal system.”
The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act is cosponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Without some kind of legal representation, many immigrant children are unable to invoke legal protections to which they may be entitled, and even to answer questions that may result in their removal from the United States. Studies show that more than half of children without attorneys are deported. Conversely but only one out of ten with access to counsel are deported. The complex immigration system is difficult enough for an English-speaking adult to navigate with the assistance of an attorney, yet children as young as three years of age are expected to advocate for themselves—a situation that has been challenged as unconstitutional. In non-immigration cases, including criminal cases, children who cannot pay for a lawyer are afforded one at government expense.
The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act would require that unaccompanied immigrant children be represented by government-appointed counsel during removal proceedings and any subsequent appeals. The Act would mandate that these children are informed of this right, and have access to a lawyer even if they are being detained in a government facility. The Act would also encourage the recruitment of attorneys willing to help these children on a pro bono basis, and would create professional requirements and guidelines for legal representation of these children.