Featured Issue: Counsel in Immigration Court

Our country's immigration laws are among the most complicated in the world, yet the government still does not guarantee legal counsel to asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations facing deportation. In the past two years, more than 112,000 families and unaccompanied children appeared without lawyers in their deportation proceedings. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for non-English speaking asylum seekers, especially children, to navigate our complex system and comprehend terms like 'persecution' or 'particular social group.' Asylum seekers represented by counsel in expedited removal proceedings are 12 times more likely to be granted asylum. A lawyer is essential to help a child tell his or her story and to make our system fair. Children with attorneys are five times more likely to be granted protection. With no government system to provide lawyers, AILA attorneys have volunteered to represent hundreds of Central American families seeking asylum who are detained in facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania.

Refugee Protection Act of 2016

On July 14, 2016, the Refugee Protection Act of 2016 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and in the House by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Among other things, the Refugee Protection Act would:

  • Eliminate the one-year asylum filing deadline that unjustly bars thousands of individuals who need protection from seeking relief;
  • Make the system more fundamentally fair by appointing counsel for children, victims of violence, and other vulnerable populations;
  • Improve border screening protocols by allowing child welfare professionals to assist in the interviewing of children;
  • Bolster the integrity of the system by increasing the availability of legal orientation programs and requiring quality control mechanisms during screening processes; and,
  • Strengthen due process by providing asylum seekers a more meaningful opportunity to substantiate their claims in court and to clarify inconsistencies in the record.

Secure the Northern Triangle Act

On June 28, 2016, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced S. 3106: Secure the Northern Triangle Act, a bill designed to provide a plan to manage the humanitarian crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and to improve access to asylum and other protections for those fleeing violence in the region. The House companion bill was introduced by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) on July 14, 2016.

Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016

On February 11, 2016, Senator Minority Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced S. 2540: Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, which mandates that unaccompanied children and vulnerable immigrants receive legal representation. Two weeks later, on February 26, 2016, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced the House companion bill: H.R. 4646: Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016.

Children Should Be Represented in Immigration Court

Data Supporting the Need for Counsel

Additional Resources

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 16031000.