Children alone in court: When it's not enough to separate them from their parents
Hundreds of immigrant children nationwide have appeared before immigration judges alone, without legal representation, in an attempt to obtain authorization to stay in the country.
Scared, disoriented, nervous, and not understanding half a word that the judge says to them...
This is the situation in which hundreds of children find themselves every day as they sit on the high chairs of a court where they are questioned about their circumstances, a process that may seem convoluted even for the most experienced of lawyers.
After the Trump administration implemented its policy of "zero tolerance," the number of unaccompanied minors has escalated considerably, forcing many of them to appear before an immigration judge without any representation, trying to obtain authorization to remain in the country.
According to CNN, "historically, closer to one in three (children) had lawyers, according to data maintained by a clearinghouse at Syracuse University. But recently released Justice Department data says the first two quarters of this fiscal year, 79% of children with cases at least a year old were represented."
While this process has been maintained during previous administrations, the "zero tolerance" policy has caught the attention of media, critics, and activists on the process of separation of families and what the children have to bear while being processed without their parents.
Children of all ages sit on the bench - from teenagers to small children who cannot touch the ground with their feet.
According to data compiled by Univisión, "more than 9 of 10 children who appear alone in an immigration court are deported, while almost half of those who obtain representation from a lawyer manage to obtain permission to stay."
And, according to U.S. law, children arrested for entering the country "illegally" have no right to request an attorney or interpreter assigned by the court.
The Trump administration’s policy has only aggravated the matter because many young children are not even aware of the reasons why they left their country, let alone the reasons why they should stay.
However, several legal advisory organizations have decided to defend and represent separated children and families upon entering the country without documentation.
Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, said, "We were representing a three-year-old boy recently in court who had been separated from his parents. In the middle of the hearing, the child started climbing up on the table," she told Kaiser Health News (KHN). "It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids."
During the month of June, the Department of Justice confirmed the judicial process to which children are being subjected. According to Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Division of Communication and Legislative Affairs, "Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) records show that there are respondents in removal proceedings who are juveniles, some as young as three-years-old, who do not currently have any attorney of record on file," she said in a statement to which The Independent had access.
Many of the detained minors are introduced into a convoluted legal system, whose final solution may take several years. After passing through the facilities of Health and Human Resources, some of them manage to stay with a family member and they are assigned case review appointments while the judge makes a decision.
But the Trump administration has prioritized the speed with which cases are resolved, trying to close "legal loopholes" and even imposing a quota system on immigration judges.
Currently, and as CNN observed in a case in Virginia, a single judge can review up to 16 cases in 45 minutes.