IMMIGRATION: Lawyers crucial for young migrants

Elva Marroquín and Angel Rosales were lucky to get no-cost attorneys to help them try to keep their children from being deported. Kids without lawyers are more likely to be expelled from the country than children with legal representation, data show.

But other parents – many with only a grade-school education and little or no knowledge of English or the U.S. legal system – are left to fend for themselves.

More than 100,000 cases involving unaccompanied minors have been filed in immigration court since fiscal 2012, when the surge in the number of Central American children crossing the border began.

Marroquín and Rosales found their attorneys, Fernando Romo and Julio Noboa, through ASOSAL, a Los Angeles immigrant-assistance organization that provides free legal services. Marroquín and Rosales said they never would have been able to afford a lawyer on their own.

There is other pro bono legal help available to migrants, including services funded with federal and state money.

But only a third of unaccompanied minors whose cases were filed in immigration court in fiscal year 2014 had legal representation as of the end of February, according to an analysis of federal data by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration-court cases.

Children with attorneys are six times more likely to be able to stay in the United States than kids without lawyers, the clearinghouse found.

Only 12 percent of unaccompanied minors without attorneys whose cases were filed since October 2011 and decided by February 2015 were given permission to stay at least temporarily. The other 88 percent were ordered to leave.

In contrast, courts allowed nearly 76 percent of kids with lawyers to remain in the United States.

Those statistics illustrate the unfairness of the government not providing legal representation in immigration court to children whose parents or guardians cannot afford it, said Victor Nieblas, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and an attorney in the City of Industry.

“Immigration law is considered the most complex area of law other than tax law,” Nieblas said.

“The courts have described it as a labyrinth, a maze. The expectation that children navigate through that maze of law is completely wrong. It’s ludicrous. And to expect judges to have the patience to navigate a child through that process also is ludicrous.”

But Robin Hvidston, executive director of the anti-illegal-immigration group We the People Rising and an Upland resident, said taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for the migrants.

“What kind of country provides legal assistance to lawbreakers when our own citizens are suffering?” she asked.

Hvidston and other anti-illegal-immigration activists believe the child migrants shouldn’t be able to stay in the United States while their cases are heard.

They are calling for laws on the matter to be changed, if necessary, so the government quickly returns the children to their home countries.

Contact the writer: 951-368-9462 or

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