“These refugees in our hemisphere are seeking protection. They are escaping to neighboring countries, desperate to find someplace to hide, someplace to find sanctuary.
“Under current U.S. law, there is no right to appointed counsel in non-criminal immigration removal proceedings, even if the person in question is a child. Imagine that.
“The humanitarian crisis at our doorstep demands that we, as Americans, affirm our fundamental values of protection and due process.”
Washington, D.C. –(ENEWSPF)–February 11, 2016. Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today, introducing his bill to protect unaccompanied minors entering the United States to escape harsh conditions in their home countries. Named the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, the bill is co-sponsored by Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Below are Senator Reid’s remarks:
For the last two years, our great country has been faced with a humanitarian crisis arising from Central America. Thousands of migrants, mainly women and children, have fled to our border and to other countries in the region to escape the growing violence there. Most of these women and children come from the so-called Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – where crime and lawlessness have overrun the people.
El Salvador is the murder capital of the world, with more murders per capita than any other nation on the planet. There isn’t a close second. El Salvador’s murder rate is 26 times higher than that of the United States. El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, for rates of female homicides. That’s why you see these women and children fleeing for their lives. But it’s not just murder that these desperate people are trying to escape. People in these countries are imperiled by high rates of human trafficking, drug trafficking, sexual assaults, and widespread corruption. It is an understatement to say that these are not safe places to live.
These refugees in our hemisphere are seeking protection. They are escaping to neighboring countries, desperate to find someplace to hide, someplace to find sanctuary. Many make the trek all the way through Mexico to our Southern border. And do you know what they do when they get to our border? They don’t try and sneak in. They don’t try and find a boat to cross the Rio Grande. These little kids throw their arms up and say, in the best way they can ‘I’m here. Do something to help me.’ turn themselves in. That’s how desperate they feel; desperate to feel safe, desperate to feel protected. They are refugees in every sense of the word.
In January, the State Department announced that it will start a refugee program in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala after, quote: “Concluding that the epidemic of violence by international criminal gangs in the three countries had reached crisis proportions and required a broader regional response.” I applaud Secretary Kerry and his team for making this humane and principled decision. This is a good first step, and it will help people apply for refugee status at home, so they don’t have to make the dangerous journey north. But for those who have already reached our borders seeking asylum, we must ensure that they are treated fairly.
These refugees should have help in making their asylum request. And that means that they need a lawyer. Under current U.S. law, there is no right to appointed counsel in non-criminal immigration removal proceedings, even if the person in question is a child. Imagine that. These children, who don’t speak English and are in a new country, are unreasonably expected to represent themselves in a court of law? Approximately 70 percent of women with children, and 50 percent of unaccompanied children, who enter the United States do not have a lawyer when standing before a judge in deportation proceedings.
There’s one organization called Kids in Need of Defense. It’s called KIND. It is a wonderful organization. I admire it. It is incredible. This non-profit organization is trying to help these children. Their executive director watched as a 5-year old girl was brought in before an immigration judge.
This little girl was clutching a doll and was so short she could barely see over the table to the microphone. She sat there before a robed immigration judge, with a trial attorney from the Department of Homeland Security on the other side of the chamber, the attorney saying ‘send her back.’ She was unable to answer any questions that the judge asked her except for the name of her doll: “Baby Baby Doll.” That was the name of her doll.
But here’s the worst part. This small child was expected to make a case for why she should be granted asylum under U.S. immigration law. KIND ultimately matched her with an attorney from a major law firm who successfully helped her win her case.
Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law out there. Toddlers should not be placed in this situation. Children without attorneys are much more vulnerable than adults – 9 out of 10 children without attorneys are ordered deported. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a majority of recently-arrived unaccompanied children are eligible for legal protection that would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States. But they cannot access these protections without an attorney to represent them in court or even to ensure they receive proper notice of their hearings. Children with attorneys are 5 times more likely to be granted protection.
This little girl represents thousands of children who have been abused in many different ways and seen their parents murdered, humiliated and hurt. Her name is Angela. This little kid is 9 years old. Sweet little thing – 9 years old. She arrived at our southern border fleeing the murder capital of the world, El Salvador. She is one of the fortunate kids. Kids in Need of Defense, the non-profit group I mentioned before, provided her with legal representation. She was granted lawful immigration status.
So look at this picture. I have looked at it many, many times. I took it home with me last night. Think of all the children, kids her age and younger, who don’t have representation. Think of a child like this standing alone in court of law with a language barrier on top of it. This isn’t how the United States should treat refugees. It’s certainly not how we should treat children fleeing violence.
That is why I am introducing the “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act” today. My legislation would mandate that the government appoint counsel to unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals, such as those who are victims of abuse, torture or violence. My bill would also require 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.
Look, deportation means death for some of these people. One study documents 83 people who have been deported to the Northern Triangle who were subsequently murdered. Given the life-and-death consequences of deportation to this region, we must ensure that we are not putting asylum-seeking women and children in harm’s way. We can do this by making sure that these desperate women and children have a lawyer.
The humanitarian crisis at our doorstep demands that we, as Americans, affirm our fundamental values of protection and due process. The “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act” will uphold those most basic American values which we hold dear. Protecting children – children like Angela – isn’t a partisan issue. This is something we can all agree on. I urge all of my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans – to support this bill.
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