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Can children be expected to defend themselves against deportation?

It may seem farcical to many people in Reading to have a child defending him- or herself in a deportation proceeding, but the sad reality is that there are a large number of children each year who are being detained by federal agents and left to represent themselves as they seek asylum. It is heartbreaking to think that there are children as young as two who are futilely tasked with finding evidence that supports an asylum case; if they fail, they could be sent back to a country that is rife with violence.

Asylum is designed to protect immigrants to the United States who have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. This could be for their political beliefs, their religion or just because they are in the unfortunate situation of being in a violent area. The asylum laws allow an immigrant to come to the United States and be protected against deportation, giving them a chance to make safer lives for themselves here. It is not just adults, however, who need these protections.

Just last year, one in 13 people taken into federal custody by agents with the Customs and Border Patrol were under the age of 18. Of those children, 17 percent were 13 or younger. What is even more shocking is that the number of minor immigrants has doubled in the past year. Fortunately, approximately 40 percent of unaccompanied minors should be able to qualify for a status that would prevent them from being deported. Sadly, only 7 percent of these children are winning their cases. This is due, in part, to the lack of legal resources available to most children.

With no right to an immigration attorney in immigration court, this means that many children are left to defend themselves. As individuals who should be able to avail themselves of U.S. immigration and asylum laws, it is tragic to know that many will be returned to dangerous situations.

Source: The New York Times, "Child Migrants, Alone in Court," Sonia Nazario, April 10, 2013

More information on asylum can be found on our website.

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