Child immigrants confronting deportation should be furnished with a lawyer to represent them, says Julie Myers Wood, former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"For a nation founded on the principles of due process and access to justice, we are grievously violating both when it comes to deporting undocumented immigrant children," Wood, now president of Guidepost Solutions, and Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, write in The Wall Street Journal
"There are no public defenders in our immigration system. Immigrants facing deportation must find and pay for their own lawyers to make their case before an immigration judge and counter a U.S. government attorney arguing for their deportation — regardless of their age."
The women write that unaccompanied immigrant children here illegally are in a tough spot because many of them are "fleeing violence, extreme poverty, abuse or abandonment in their home countries of Mexico and Central America."
"Without counsel, these children are often sent back into harm's way," Wood and Young say, noting that federal officials predict that 23,000 unaccompanied minors will have been placed in U.S. custody by the end of fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30
The two point out that a provision providing lawyers to represent the children was included in the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June.
"What better reason for the House to pass the bill than to protect powerless, unaccompanied children by appointing counsel?" they say.
Wood and Young also point to "innovative approaches" to help deal with the problems faced by the children here illegally that are already being pursued, "including a public-private partnership model that facilitates the pro bono representation of unaccompanied children by attorneys in law firms, corporations and law schools."
But that isn't enough, they say.
"Some form of government-appointed counsel is necessary. This could be done through an expansion of current providers for indigent counsel, or even through grants that allow existing nongovernmental organizations that assist children to expand their efforts," Wood and Young write.
Providing lawyers won't prevent all of the unaccompanied children from being deported, they continue. "But at least in these circumstances, we will know that the child received due process and, through the assistance of counsel, was able to present the best case."
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