n 2018, federal court orders barred family separations at the US-Mexico border
, deeming the practice discriminatory and inhumane. See Ms. L v. ICE (2018)
Subsequently, Trump’s administration rescinded the “zero-tolerance” policy which originally allowed criminal prosecution against migrants entering unlawfully and separation from their children. Despite these efforts, family separation persists border-wide. In fact, border advocates deem to observe a steep rise of migrant children separated from their families this year.
This ongoing course of action carried out by the Border Patrol renders a great trauma not only for the parents but especially for the children, often leaving them with no explanation and essentially helpless when facing removal proceedings.
It is crucial for immigrant children to acquire representation when dealing with legal matters. Children are not well-versed with the law, unfamiliar with the process, and may not realize what is at stake. In addition, without legal assistance, immigrant children must defend themselves in court and prove their eligibility for relief.
Without counsel, children are expected to produce substantial evidence for their case and complete lengthy immigration forms all on their own. It is not unheard of for children as young as three years old to attend their court hearing on removal proceedings alone.
Immigrant Children Crisis at the Border
Immigrant children have the right to an attorney, and during this nightmare, it is in their best interest to retain legal representation. Unrepresented children are not likely to receive fair treatment and are more likely to be sent back to their home country even if they may have grounds for US protection. While retaining counsel may seem overwhelming in an already emotionally-distressing situation, an attorney will offer his/her best efforts at securing the child’s safety within the US.
Keep in mind, there are certain guidelines and obligations of the attorney that he must exercise when representing an immigrant child. Despite the child’s age or competence, a practicing lawyer must use professional conduct throughout his legal representation—this goes for both in and outside of court.
For instance, Rule 1.14 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct sets out that attorneys must reasonably maintain a normal lawyer-client relationship with the client of diminished capacity. Children are considered to have diminished capacity due to their lack of knowledge of the law/legal system and may need the assistance to make mature and rational decisions.
In addition, suffered trauma, exposure to violence, or separation from family may contribute to the state of diminished capacity. Furthermore, an attorney must make prompt communication, maintain client confidentiality, and reasonably consult with the client’s objectives prior to taking any action on the matter.
It is important to keep the child’s competence in mind throughout the case and is especially essential to make the migrant child fully aware of the outcome or consequences that result from his/her decisions.
Retaining legal counsel is key to greater possibility of gaining US safety and receiving fair treatment throughout the entire immigration process. Knowledge of expert immigration attorneys may also be beneficial as the issue of unrepresented immigrant children is escalating due to the Trump administration’s discussion to end funds for federal representation programs.
However, representing an immigrant minor during this harsh conflict should be worthwhile as the assistance may make a significant impact on the child’s life.