BY ISN STAFFFebruary 26, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and 13 U.S.-based Jesuit law schools welcome the introduction of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in the Senate and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in the House of Representatives.

Finding legal representation is one of the first hurdles that asylum seekers arriving in the United States face. According to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, more than 93,000 juvenile asylum seekers are currently without legal representation.

Without access to counsel, an individual’s claim to asylum or other immigration relief cannot be adequately presented or adjudicated, and poses more significant challenges for young children.

South Texas Border - U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide assistance to unaccompanied children after they have crossed the border into the United States. Seen here during processing, a Custom's Field Officer provides food to unaccompanied children. (Eddie Perez — Customs and Border Protection)

South Texas Border – U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide assistance to unaccompanied children after they have crossed the border into the United States. Seen here during processing, a Custom’s Field Officer provides food to unaccompanied children. (Eddie Perez — Customs and Border Protection)

In 2015, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and 13 U.S.-based Jesuit law schools launched a partnership to identify and address the legal challenges faced by families and children from Central America seeking protection in the U.S., including lack of access to legal counsel. Jesuit law schools are serving asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants in a variety of ways, including through research, training and direct representation.

“We see the need for access to appropriate legal counsel every day. The stories we hear are devastating and these individuals, especially children, have the right to a fair hearing,” said Mary Holper, Associate Clinical Professor, Boston College Law School.

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 will address the critical gap in access to legal counsel for thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers, including children. This important legislation mandates that the government appoint counsel to unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals, such as those who are victims of abuse, torture or violence. It also requires the Department of Homeland Security to make legal orientation programs available at all detention centers, so people know their rights and responsibilities under immigration law.

“Safe haven in the United States for children fleeing danger abroad should not depend on their ability to hire a lawyer. This bill gives them hope in America and is true to our values,” said John Trasviña, Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and the Jesuit law schools urge strong support and swift passage of this critical legislation. “We applaud Senator Reid and Rep. Lofgren for leading this important effort among their colleagues and for taking a stand on behalf of the thousands of children seeking asylum who are without access to legal counsel,” said Armando Borja, National Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

Participating law schools are: Boston College, Creighton University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, Loyola University Chicago (in close collaboration with the Center for the Human Rights of Children housed at Loyola University Chicago), Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Loyola University New Orleans, Saint Louis University (in close collaboration with the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry housed at Saint Louis University), Santa Clara University, Seattle University, University of Detroit Mercy, and University of San Francisco.

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