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Lawsuit Seeks Legal Counsel for Undocumented Kids at Immigration Hearings

PHOTO: The federal government should provide undocumented children with legal counsel at immigration hearings, that's what a lawsuit against the feds seeks to accomplish. Photo courtesy of the U-S Department of Defense.
PHOTO: The federal government should provide undocumented children with legal counsel at immigration hearings, that's what a lawsuit against the feds seeks to accomplish. Photo courtesy of the U-S Department of Defense.
July 21, 2014

PHOENIX – A lawsuit filed against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups is seeking government-provided legal counsel for undocumented children at immigration hearings.

Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, says thousands of children each year are forced to face a government attorney by themselves at immigration hearings.

He says children who have an attorney, usually provided at no cost by an organization like his, have a much better chance of proving that they qualify for refugee status.

"Through our office, the vast majority of the children do obtain legal status and are able to stay here,” he says. “I can't remember the last time we lost on a case involving a child."

Adams points out there are many cases where children likely qualify for refugee status but are deported because they didn't have an attorney.

A study from Syracuse University concludes that nearly half of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States.

Adams maintains the federal government is not complying with the undocumented immigrants' constitutional right to due process by not providing them with legal counsel.

Tens of thousands of children are seeking refuge in the U.S. after fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which are now among the most dangerous countries in the world, especially for young people.

Adams says children as young as 11 are forced to join the gangs that run huge chunks of the country, or run for their lives.

"They face threats against their very life,” he stresses. “They face sexual violation, repeated abuse and many death. It's astounding the stories that are coming up on a daily basis."

Adams hopes the lawsuit compels President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to implement a policy that will provide attorneys.

According to the United Nations, Honduras now has the world's highest murder rate.



Troy Wilde, Public News Service - AZ