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December 2, 2014

Debate continues over young immigrants' right to counsel
By Michael Matza

Should immigrants facing deportation have a right to legal counsel? Should it make a difference if the immigrants are children under 18? Advocates of strict controls on immigration say guaranteeing lawyers for people in removal proceedings is too costly and that a modicum of harshness and urgency helps prevent prolonged adjudications. Immigrant advocates, including in Philadelphia, say universal representation could lower costs by improving judicial efficiency, shrinking backlogs, and protecting the civil rights of immigrants who have legitimate claims. A report last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University group known for in-depth court research, added fresh data to the debate. Of 63,721 pending cases of juveniles in the nation's immigration courts, just 32 percent are represented by lawyers, TRAC found. The remainder "have not as yet been able to hire a lawyer" or obtain free services. Another key finding, based on 20,000 juvenile cases decided since 2011, underscores advocates' concerns about fairness and justice. In 73 percent of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. Where the child appeared alone, without representation, only 15 percent were allowed to stay. "Whether or not an unaccompanied juvenile had an attorney," TRAC noted, "was the single most important factor" influencing the case's outcome.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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