For Immigration and Asylum proceedings, as the system stands now, there is no right to an attorney because being present in the U.S. illegally is a civil offense. This forces many children to appear before an immigration judge by themselves when they plead to remain in the United States. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a San Jose Democrat and 54 of her House colleagues have put forth a bill that seeks at a minimum that children and people with certain disabilities should have government-appointed attorneys to help them navigate the asylum process. Eleven California Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Rep. Lofgren is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. In Defense of the bill, Lonfgren said in a recent interview, “You’ve got a 10-year-old who speaks Spanish and they’re in a courtroom facing a trained prosecutor making the asylum case. It’s not going to work. The consequences of being unable to make your case are severe.”
Since October 2013, more than 132,000 Central American children and teens without legal status have been caught near the United States border with Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It isn’t clear whether that trend will continue this year, or if federal deportation efforts have caused it to slow. A recent Study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University seems to shed light on the huge need for this new Bill. The statistics show that a child who goes before an immigration judge without an attorney has only a 1 in 10 chance of being allowed to stay, while about half of children with an attorney get U.S. protection, according to the Study. The analysis also shows that roughly half of unaccompanied children get an attorney.