Between October 2013 and September 2014, 52,942 unaccompanied undocumented immigrant minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were placed in United States deportation proceedings by the federal Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). Thousands of these minors ended up in New York.
In September 2014, $1.9m was allocated by the New York Community Trust, Robin Hood Foundation and New York City Council to provide funding for a coalition of organizations that could offer legal services and training sessions to immigrant youths, during which they could be made aware of their rights. Many young immigrants qualify for either asylum or special US visas that could enable them to remain in the United States; however, without legal representation, it is almost impossible for them to gain access to the very things that could prevent them being deported.
Although the process of deportation has slowed as a result of the 2008 Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act, young immigrants are still faced with a limited time to find legal representation before they appear in immigration court. Over 50 percent of the youths who have faced deportation proceedings since October 2013 lost their cases without representation.
The EOIR launched the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children in 2010, with a number of organizations in New York providing training to immigrant minors and their guardians with regard to the immigration court and acquiring legal representation.
“When kids aren’t given lawyers, not surprisingly, their rights aren’t fully protected,” says Brett Stark from the Terra Firma program.