In California last week, a federal judge ordered immigration courts from three states to give legal representation to immigrants who are facing deportation or are in detention and who have mental disabilities. The order came the day after federal immigration officials came up with a new policy that effectively expanded that ruling, making legal representation paid for by the government available to people who have mental disabilities in the immigration courts of all states in the US.
The move is seen as a victory for common sense in order to give protection to a class of people who are among the most vulnerable in our society – immigrants who are faced with deportation – and who are not entitled to a lawyer if they are unable to afford one themselves.
With such an important precedent having now been set, advocates believe that it is vital that the government moves fast to make sure that similar protection is offered to minors. At the moment children under the age of 18 who do not have a parent or guardian have to go through the immigration detention process all on their own.
“The recent litigation to protect individuals who cannot defend themselves in court set us up to connect the dots to children,” says Wendy Young, who is president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a legal advocacy organization based in Washington DC. KIND says that over 8,000 children come to the US unaccompanied every year.