SACRAMENTO, CA — Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) presented today a resolution calling on the federal government to provide unaccompanied minors due process by providing government-funded attorneys to all indigent children fighting deportation or seeking asylum. Senate Joint Resolution 28 was approved by a vote of 31-2.
“Thousands of unaccompanied minors are being forced to act as their own attorneys while navigating a complex legal system that even adults struggle to understand,” said Senator Lara. “For many of these children the difference between having a lawyer or not can be the difference between life or death. It is our moral obligation to ensure that these kids have the legal assistance necessary to plead their case. SJR 28 urges the Federal government to follow California’s lead and ensure that unaccompanied minors are afforded due process and provided legal representation.
Every week in immigration courts around the country, thousands of unaccompanied minors act as their own lawyers, pleading for asylum or other type of relief in a complex legal system they do not understand. SJR 28 urges the federal government to provide these children with due process and legal counsel so they can adequately plead their asylum cases in court.
In 2014, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors immigrated to the United States. This influx caught the U.S. officials by surprise and exposed the structural shortcomings that exist within the immigration court processing system. These children were detained into border patrol facilities along the border throughout the American southwest while they awaited court hearings.
The U.S. legal system provides court-appointed attorneys for all individuals who cannot afford one. However, this same counsel is not guaranteed for unaccompanied minors, leaving thousands of children to navigate the complex legal system on their own. Jack H. Weil, a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the 9th Circuit stated in early 2016 that children as young as 3 years old can be taught immigration law and represent themselves.
Most of the children appearing in immigration courts are from Central America, escapees of the poverty and street violence that make El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Since January 2014, it is reported that at least 83 deportees, including children, from the United States, were reported murdered upon their return to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The measure now heads to the State Assembly.