Public Advocate Letitia James joined a coalition of immigration advocates including Catholic Charities, New York Immigration Coalition and Legal Aid Society yesterday, August 12, 2014, to call on increased protection and representation for undocumented youth navigating New York immigration court.
Margaret Martin, supervising attorney for Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minors Program, spoke at the event along with others to call for the creation of a help desk at Immigration Court that will provide counsel and resources to children and their families, and monthly clinics around the City to train attorneys who volunteer to act as a friend of the court during initial hearings (“surge dockets”) that involve unaccompanied minors. The Public Advocate seeks to recruit attorneys to serve in this capacity pro-bono and also plans to undergo training to serve unaccompanied youth.
Today, the first of nearly 3,500 unaccompanied children– many of whom have both experienced and been witness to heinous crimes in their home countries– will enter New York State to face deportation proceedings via accelerated court hearings.
New York State is second only to Texas in the number of unaccompanied children hosted, followed by Florida with 3,181 and California with 3,150. These children, as young as five years old, come without any knowledge of our legal system, yet are expected to navigate the complex juvenile surge docket.
Children and others in court for immigration charges do not have a right to an attorney — so if they cannot afford one or do not have family to help them find one, they go unrepresented in their hearings.
“For more than 8 years, Catholic Charities has been providing compassionate help to those seeking refuge from Central America,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Monsignor Kevin Sullivan.
“We have seen the number of children in need of help increase dramatically and witnessed the emotional and physical scars they bear from violence and abuse in their home countries. We continue to respond to each child’s needs, by expanding our services to meet the growing demand, whether through providing proper legal representation, helping reunification with custodial parents, or coordinating needed supportive human services.”