Representation Matters No Child Should Appear in Immigration Proceedings Alone

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Each year, thousands of immigrant children are placed into court proceedings in which government prosecutors seek to deport them unless those children can prove they have a right to stay in the United States. Many face these immigration proceedings alone. Many children have legal options that establish their ability to remain in the United States, but these options are nearly impossible to access without the assistance of trained attorneys. Unfortunately, although the right to be represented by legal counsel is recognized in immigration proceedings, the right to appointed counsel is not. Children who are unable to find free counsel or afford private counsel must navigate the immigration system alone. This fact sheet outlines why universal, publicly funded representation for children in immigration proceedings is urgently needed.

Key Takeaway

Despite the complexity and high stakes of immigration proceedings, they remain a setting where children lack the most critical guarantee of their rights: court-appointed counsel.

Publication Highlights

  • The training and expertise of an immigration attorney—ideally an attorney with a trauma-informed practice and access to integrated social services—is critically important for children in immigration proceedings.

  • The person in removal proceedings must determine the legal options they can pursue, interact with government agencies, collect evidence, call witnesses, and make legal arguments against trained government attorneys.

  • What is extremely challenging for an adult is nearly impossible for a child. Several legal options available to children involve processes outside of immigration court, making their cases more complex.

Key Facts


Legal Services for Unaccompanied Children

Increasing legal representation for immigrant children facing deportation without a parent or legal guardian

Each year, thousands of unaccompanied children, many fleeing unspeakable violence in their own countries, enter the United States. Upon apprehension and after enduring a harrowing journey, they are detained in federal custody in facilities contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and immediately placed in removal (deportation) procee ...

For illustrative purposes only.

Evaluation of justice AmeriCorps Legal Services for Unaccompanied Children Program

The number of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the U.S. has grown exponentially in recent years. Most are escaping conflict and gang violence in their home countries. After arrival, they are scheduled for immigration hearings, but often face the court without legal representation.  This program uses the AmeriCorps service model to provi ...

  • Laura Simich
    Laura Simich

Why Does Representation Matter?

The Impact of Legal Representation in Immigration Court

Representation before any court of law is a matter of fundamental fairness. However, immigrants facing deportation are entitled to representation paid for by the government only in extremely limited circumstances, despite the high stakes involved in these proceedings. A growing body of research demonstrates the need for representation and its signi ...

  • Nina Siulc, Karen Berberich
November 14, 2018