justice AmeriCorps is a new program that will help immigrant children who have crossed the U.S. border without a parent or guardian as they navigate complex immigration court proceedings. These children, some as young as five, fled extreme violence and poverty in their home countries. It is estimated that more than 70,000 children attempted to cross the southwest border without a parent or guardian in 2014 alone. This represents a staggering increase in unaccompanied minor children, of whom there were fewer than 20,000 just three years ago. This surge in child migrants is due to an influx of children fleeing the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), many of whom left to escape gang violence, trafficking, and other horrors.
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These children are not guaranteed any kind of legal representation. After being apprehended by Border Patrol agents, they must navigate the complex immigration courts alone, without any guarantee of help. Though many have been through indescribably awful experiences, these children are often too young or too traumatized to adequately articulate a justification for staying in the United States. A skilled legal professional, with training and supervision in providing culturally competent assistance to children, can discern whether a child qualifies to stay in the U.S. and how to best present the relevant facts to the court.
We know that these children’s odds of remaining in the United States without a legal advocate are just 13 percent. With a trained and supported lawyer representing them in immigration court, their chances of a successful outcome can climb to a remarkable 74 percent. Existing programs, however, simply do not have the resources needed to keep up with the dramatic increase in demand.
We estimate that every lawyer in this initiative will take on a caseload of roughly 50 children annually. Multiply that by 45, and you get 2,250. Though this may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared with the staggering number of children expected to need representation in the coming years, it is a crucial first step in the effort to give these kids a fair chance at justice.
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