After approximately 60,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border after fleeing their home countries in Central America, many of them are due to appear in front of immigration judges to determine whether they can remain in the U.S. Although the children are granted the right to an attorney before going to court, there is such a high demand for attorneys that many cities are in a rush to train volunteer lawyers to help the children.
According to the Associated Press, there has been a significant surge in the need for attorneys, especially since several immigration courts have decided to fast-track many hearings. While it normally takes months for a child to go in front of a judge for an initial hearing, it now only takes a few weeks.
Children are not guaranteed a lawyer at the expense of the U.S. government, but having an attorney with them can help them remain in the country. The source stated that only 10 percent of children who didn’t have representation with them in court were granted permission to stay in the U.S.
“We’re doing pretty well on finding willing lawyers,” Reid Trautz, director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s practice and professionalism center told the AP. “We’ve got to get them trained, we’ve got to get them matched to that child. It just takes time.”
San Francisco and New York City are each providing $2 million in funds to find more lawyers to help children going in front of immigration judges, while the state of California is allocating $3 million to find attorneys for unaccompanied minors, the source reported. Thus far, approximately 800 immigration lawyers have volunteered.
Many of the children left their home countries to get away from violence, and one of the challenges that many volunteer lawyers are running into is getting the children to open up about their lives at home, according to the source.