New platform connects pro bono lawyers with unaccompanied minors

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Children and adults wait for help at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, on July 15, 2019, after being released from custody by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The American Bar Association this week launched an online platform that connects volunteer lawyers across the country with unaccompanied migrant children who have been detained by the federal government or released to family while awaiting deportation proceedings.

The website, Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation is part of the ABA’s Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA). Since 2015, CILA, which is based in Houston, has served both legal service providers and pro bono lawyers who represent children in immigration-related proceedings. CILA also provides training, technical assistance and collaboration opportunities to pro bono lawyers and legal services providers who represent children in immigration proceedings.

“Thousands of children must face immigration judges each year without appointed counsel. With representation, asylum seekers have a five times greater chance of winning their case,” according to the new website.

Federal law does not provide legal representation to migrants, including children, who enter the United States illegally and must appear in federal immigration courts. Many lawyers offer free, or pro bono services, but given the massive influx of immigrants on the Southwest border since 2014, many lawyers who want to help don’t always know how to best reach clients, especially the children.

“Until children in deportation proceedings have the right to appointed counsel at public expense, pro bono attorneys are a key support to the legal service organizations that provide this critical representation,” ABA President Bob Carlson said in a press release.

The website provides a way for pro bono lawyers across the nation to search for cases posted by civil legal aid providers to address legal relief for unaccompanied children who have crossed into the United States from Mexico. Attorneys can search for cases by geographic location, case type and posting organization. Cases will be provided by legal aid and pro bono programs nationwide and include mentoring support. Some examples of case requests posted Friday include:

  • “Teen from C. America. Gang murdered parent. Other parent abandoned. Child lived with relatives who couldn’t protect or support him. Child says gangs target teens without family. Needs representation in Seattle.”
  • “Central American girl fled after being targeted because of sexual orientation. MS gang member was forcing her to be his girlfriend, wanted to “change” her”
  • “4 year‐old girl fled abuse by her father in her home country. Reunified with mother who seeks to obtain custody along with juvenile visa findings. State juvenile court and immigration court appearances required. LA barred attorney needed.”

The project is funded by the Vera Institute of Justice.

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