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Children in Los Angeles Immigration Court Face Federal Judges Without an Attorney

The Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review is the agency that employs the nation’s Immigration Judges and the Los Angeles Immigration Court is one of the largest in the country.

A new initiative has been put into place in the Immigration Courtroom that intends to speed up the time for these newly arrived, and mostly unaccompanied minors to appear before the Immigration Judges who determine their fate. In most cases, from the time a Notice to Appear, or charging document, is served on a respondent, the wait to see a judge can be anywhere between three months to a year. Following the initial phase of the process can take several more years before a final hearing date is scheduled. Many judges around the country have dockets that extend out more than four years.

The new program is designed to give these unaccompanied children a whirlwind trip through the system within a grand total of 21 days. That would mean that these children, who do not speak any English for the most part and may have little to no education, need to find a capable and honest legal representative to appear with them and speak for them on their behalf to plead their case to remain in the country. If they are unable to do so, they must face the Immigration Judge and Assistant Chief Counsel, the prosecutor for the Department of Homeland Security, on their own.

This new initiative is part of the Department of Justice’s response to the flood of unaccompanied minors and women who crossed the border from Mexico into the Southern United States this past summer. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection has released data that asserts more than 68,000 individuals were stopped and then detained at various crossings last year alone.

In the past month, the number of immigration arrests and detentions at the border has decreased significantly, however due to the increase from last year, the Immigration Courts have been inundated with an increased case load, on top of a back log of over 400,000 cases currently pending, nationwide.

The children who fled Central America this summer came to the United States for many reasons. Most seeking protection from the rampant crime, forced recruitment into dangerous criminal gangs and abject poverty in their hometowns. When these children face the Immigration Judge and Federal Prosecutor, without competent legal representation the odds are stacked against them unreasonably. Emily Ryo, a law professor at the University of Southern California commented recently, that when a child is unrepresented by an attorney in Immigration Court, 86% of those children are ordered deported and physically removed to their country. On the other side of the spectrum, children that are afforded adequate representation only suffer a 30% deportation or removal rate.

In an attempt to equalize the injustice so rampant in the Immigration Courts, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that gave funding for legal groups who are willing to come to the aide of these unaccompanied minors.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review is also hiring additional judges in an attempt to whittle down the back log of cases that have been dragged through the system for so many years. With some hope, many of the newly hired judges will be appointed to the Los Angeles Immigration Court, where many of the recent unaccompanied children and women are languishing at the present time.

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