An initiative of justice AmeriCorps Administered by Equal Justice Works

What is justice AmeriCorps?

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. They are not guaranteed any representation in court, but without legal assistance, the likelihood that they will be sent back to these horrific conditions is high. The justice AmeriCorps grant program will enroll approximately 100 lawyers and paralegals as AmeriCorps members to provide legal services to the most vulnerable of these children, responding to Congress’ direction to the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) “to better serve vulnerable populations such as children and improve court efficiency through pilot efforts aimed at improving legal representation.”

What is the initiative administered by Equal Justice Works?

The justice AmeriCorps program is funded by a federal grant from the strategic partnership between the Corporation for National and Community Service (which operates the AmeriCorps program) and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), in addition to private contributions. The majority of the federal funding allocated for the project — $1.2 million — was awarded to a partnership led by Equal Justice Works, which includes the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). This partnership program is an initiative of justice AmeriCorps.

Why is this initiative needed?

It’s 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.

These children are not guaranteed any kind of legal representation. Their 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.

What is the partnership hoping to accomplish?

Our most immediate goal is to provide compassionate and experienced legal representation to thousands of vulnerable children. For those children who do have a legitimate claim to stay in the United States, this leads to immediate and demonstrable positive benefits such as being reunited with family members here, daily stability, and the physical and emotional safety that were not present in the conditions they left behind.

But our goals don’t stop there. In addition to providing desperately needed representation, justice AmeriCorps members will build pro bono capacity in this growing arena of public service law so that the field is able to keep up with such dramatic increases in demand. The justice AmeriCorps program will seed the field with competent and knowledgeable lawyers who can train others and work together to develop best practices for working with the specific needs of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

As well, justice AmeriCorps members will maintain detailed records and collect needed data in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our nation’s immigration courts in the long term. Because of the rapid growth in this area of need, the field remains ill-equipped to determine what changes to our courts must be made to ensure that justice is served for all immigrant children. Our members will collect extensive data that will paint a picture of what is working and what isn’t, so that we can accurately diagnose and correct issues in the immigration court system.

Who are the partners in this justice AmeriCorps program?

Equal Justice Works is proud to partner with three leaders in the field of public interest immigration law. Our partners are: