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The Time is Right for Pro Bono in Children’s Cases

High Need for Pro Bono Counsel & The Difference it Makes

There is a high need for representation in children and youth’s immigration cases. CILA hosts a platform, Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation, and currently there are over seventy-five pro bono opportunities—representing children across the nation who need assistance from an attorney. This is only a small snapshot of the total need nationwide, but this shows that the need is great. Prior reports have shown that having legal counsel makes a significant difference in the outcomes of children’s immigration cases. The Vera Institute of Justice’sreportRepresentation Matters: No Child Should Appear in Immigration Proceedings Alonestates“Unaccompanied children with legal representation—at some point during their cases—were more than 7X more likely than unrepresented unaccompanied children to receive an outcome that allowed them to remain in the United States.” Children have the right to counsel if they are in immigration proceedings, but they are not appointed counsel. Many children cannot afford to hire an attorney, and the current network of nonprofit providers cannot meet the need, so pro bono counsel is needed to fill the gap.

Changes at Immigration Court Advantageous to Pro Bono Attorneys

Immigration court, formally known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), issued a memorandum in November 2021 to provide guidance to immigration courts and staff addressing how to encourage and facilitate pro bono legal services. The memo acknowledges pro bono counsel help improve the court’s efficiency and efficacy, as well as recognizes the public service offered by pro bono counsel. There are several positive aspects of the memorandum to help facilitate pro bono representation that attorneys considering getting engaged with pro bono should know about. The memorandum specifically encourages immigration judges to be flexible when scheduling hearings and setting filing deadlines. Notably, the memorandum also states, “Given the particular vulnerability of child respondents, Immigration Judges are strongly encouraged to facilitate pro bono representation whenever children are involved.” The memorandum also reminds immigration judges to employ child-friendly practices. The time is now for engagement in pro bono since currently the immigration court is actively involved in encouraging pro bono representation as evidenced by this memorandum.

Positive Immigration Law and Policy Changes Impacting Children’s Cases

While every child’s immigration case is unique, many children seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and/or asylum as forms of legal relief. An attorney’s guidance and assistance are imperative to navigate the systems involved and to make effective arguments—to guide children and youth in their cases. There have been positive substantive developments affecting many children’s immigration cases. For example in the last year, there have been positive updates in case law affecting asylum cases and in policy affecting youth with SIJS.

Additionally, several positive changes have created opportunities to improve the procedural posture of a case in removal proceedings. The use of prosecutorial discretion has generally increased resulting in continuances, stipulations, administrative closure, and dismissals in immigration court. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy Directive 11005.3 issued in August 2021, Using a Victim-Centered Approach with Noncitizen Crime Victims, encouraged discretion on a case-by-case basis for cases involving victims, including specifically referencing SIJS. While it will depend per case and the judge and trial attorney involved whether prosecutorial discretion will be successful, there have certainly been advancements in making these requests and additional support for arguments in the last year or so.

CILA Resources to Support Pro Bono Representation

CILA offers many free resources available to pro bono attorneys to assist them in their pro bono representation. CILA offers a dynamic and informative Pro Bono Guide: Working with Children and Youth in Immigration Cases reviewing common forms of legal relief and going beyond the black letter of the law to provide information on important practical tips and advocacy skills. In addition, CILA co-hosted a training with the ABA Commission on Immigration in March 2022 on Representing Children and Families in Immigration Matters featuring three substantive trainings and a presentation on how to get involved. The training topics covered: (1) Nuts and Bolts: Common Forms of Immigration Relief; (2) Practice Before USCIS & Removal Proceedings 101; (3) Interviewing Skills When Working with Children and Families; and (4) How to Get Involved. The training recordings are now available to view for free on CILA’s website. Additionally, there are many written resources and recorded trainings on CILA’s website including a 101 training series, multiple trainings and resources on appellate and litigation strategy, and a resource on cultural competency and humility when representing youth.

Get Involved

Considering the great need for pro bono representation and the positive developments substantively in cases that affect children’s cases along with the immigration court’s active encouragement of pro bono representation, the time is right for pro bono engagement in children’s immigration cases.

CILA welcomes you to get involved and support a child by providing pro bono representation. Visit CILA’s pro bono platform and see if there is a case of interest to you. There are cases across the nation in need of assistance. To help with your representation, CILA will mail a printed copy of CILA’s Pro Bono Guide to anyone who takes a case from CILA’s platform. Join CILA’s quarterly pro bono newsletter designed for anyone who is a pro bono attorney and seeking resources, or for anyone who wants to learn more about and follow our work to stay up to date on new resources and opportunities to get involved. We also invite you to share the word about current case opportunities and the need for pro bono representation in children’s cases by sharing this blog post or the link to cases from CILA’s platform with a friend or colleague. If you have any questions about CILA’s pro bono platform or resources, contact us at probono@cila.org.