The Biden administration will provide government-funded legal representation to certain unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings in eight US cities as part of an effort to boost legal access in the immigration court system, according to agency officials.
The new effort, labeled the Counsel for Children Initiative, comes months after the Biden White House dealt with an increase in children arriving at the southern border, leading to overcrowded detention facilities and a scramble to find appropriate locations to hold them. Immigrants in deportation proceedings are generally not provided an attorney by the government if they cannot afford one.
The new initiative will provide government-funded legal representation to certain children in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the nation’s immigration courts, is also updating training for attorneys who want to handle immigration cases.
“By providing noncitizens and their representatives with more resources, we can better ensure that respondents understand immigration court proceedings, that legal representation before EOIR will increase, and that the public will grow more confident in the due process our Immigration Judges provide,” David Neal, the new head of EOIR, said in a statement.
Research done by the American Immigration Council shows that children with legal representation historically show up to their court hearings. The group found that in 95% of cases between 2005 and 2016 in which a child had representation they showed up to their court proceedings, compared to 33% who were not represented. A limited number of children receive funded attorneys through a different process than the one created by the Biden administration in recent weeks.
In 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that there was no constitutional requirement to provide government-funded attorneys to immigrant children in deportation proceedings.
“Statistical evidence confirms what common sense already tells us: A child without a lawyer has almost no chance of presenting and winning a complex asylum case,” wrote Ahilan Arulanantham, codirector of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law, at the time. “They are allowed to remain here less than 10 percent of the time. Representation makes all the difference, as children are five times more likely to prevail if they have an attorney.”
There have been other efforts aimed at boosting legal representation for children in court, including one in Baltimore that provided attorneys to children who were under 16, had been released from federal custody, and had been issued a notice to appear in deportation proceedings. A different initiative was also created to provide attorneys for children in the Southeast. Both of the programs ended in 2017.
The new effort is the latest to change the legal process for unaccompanied children who arrive at the border.
Trump administration officials created policies that made it harder for children to obtain asylum in the US, including one issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the waning days of the previous presidency. Trump officials long complained that unaccompanied minors and their families abuse the immigration system through “loopholes” that allow them to remain in the US after crossing the border to seek asylum. Biden officials undid the ICE policy, which made it harder for children to gain asylum, in the first weeks of the administration.