Family separations at the border are not the only crisis immigrant children face. Children who were taken from their parents, or who crossed the border alone, also go to their immigration hearings alone. And “alone” means no lawyer.
Many Americans are shocked that there is no right to a lawyer in immigration court. Last week, Mazin Sidahmed wrote about New York City’s attempt to provide lawyers to immigrant families. If a lawyer matters to an adult — and it really, really does — it’s even more important for a child.
This is not just a Trump-era problem. In 2012, Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, started visiting immigration courts for a report she was writing on how to improve them. In one courtroom, the judge was hearing the cases of children. “There was a little boy at the table white-knuckling the chair, with no one to help him,” she said. He was about eight. His mother, who was undocumented, was afraid to come into the building.
Professor Benson, who knew the judge, asked if she could act as a friend of the court. She said that the judge and the attorney for the government — whose job it was to try to get the boy deported — were both relieved. After talking to the boy through an interpreter, she asked the judge to postpone his case until she could get him a lawyer.