Many of the 60,000 undocumented immigrant minors from Central America who came over the US-Mexico border in the last 12 months still have no legal representation arranged for when they appear in immigration court. Immigrant advocates are desperately racing to try to get volunteer attorneys trained to be able to deal with the enormous caseload.
The amount of undocumented immigrants crossing the border into the United States has more than doubled over the course of the last financial year. This has resulted in a massive increase in the need for attorneys, which has been further exacerbated by the decision made by the immigration courts to fast track the cases of minors, with initial hearings now being held in a matter of weeks rather than months.
Immigrants are allowed to have counsel with them when they attend immigration courts; however, counsel is not provided or guaranteed by the government, despite just 10% of the undocumented immigrants who go to court without legal representation being permitted to remain in the United States. There are efforts underway to try to train lawyers from private law firms on the workings of the nation’s convoluted immigration laws and to teach them how to deal with clients who are often traumatized and do not understand English.
“We’re doing pretty well on finding willing lawyers,” says the director of the practice and professionalism center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Reid Trautz. “We’ve got to get them trained; we’ve got to get them matched to that child. It just takes time.”