WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced Tuesda that he has introduced legislation to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum in the United States receive legal representation and a fair hearing.
The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act will address concerns that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is improperly rushing recently arrived asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras through the immigration court process. Many of those individuals are children who have arrived since 2014, fleeing life-threatening gang violence and attempting to reach parents or relatives who are already living in this country. Children with attorneys are five times more likely to be granted protected status, but asylum seekers do not currently have a right to counsel.
The bill comes a week after Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich asked President Obama to temporarily suspend immigration removal actions against children and families from the region until questions about due process can be addressed. Some of the most recently arrived unaccompanied children are being housed temporarily in a shelter operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at Holloman Air Force Base. Udall toured that facility yesterday.
“The United States has a responsibility — and a self-interest — in helping stabilize the region to prevent the kind of horrible violence that is forcing these children to risk everything to come to the United States. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I’ve pushed the administration to provide assistance to boost the economy and combat drug and gang violence, particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” Udall said. “Meanwhile, we have to make sure that we aren’t depriving migrant children and other vulnerable individuals of due process. There is significant evidence that people are being unfairly rushed through the immigration courts — even children, who have no way to make sense of our legal system. Our bill will ensure they have a lawyer and a chance for a fair hearing.”
The bill ensures due process for migrant children and other vulnerable individuals by:
Requiring the government to appoint counsel to unaccompanied children and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities and victims of abuse, torture or violence.
Requiring DHS and the U.S. Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants.
Creating a case management pilot project to increase court appearance rates.
Requiring DHS to submit reports to Congress on the number of individuals who were represented by counsel and the number of individuals who received legal orientation presentations.
Udall introduced the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act with Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). A fact sheet on the bill is available here.