American Bar Association launches website to aid unaccompanied minors

Child advocates have for months voiced concerns about unaccompanied minors not having an attorney by their side in immigration court, and now the American Bar…

Central American children await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the Texas on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed illegally into the United States this year and presented themselves to federal agents, causing a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Child advocates have for months voiced concerns about unaccompanied minors not having an attorney by their side in immigration court, and now the American Bar Association is stepping in to help.

The group launched a website this week as a resource for attorneys who want to volunteer their time to help unaccompanied minors navigate through the immigration system. The goal is to get more attorneys to provided unaccompanied minors with legal representation on a pro bono basis.

“The ABA steps up when justice is at stake,” American Bar Association President William C. Hubbard said in a statement. “We support legal representation for unaccompanied children in the U.S. immigration court system. We are acting not only out of concern for the welfare of these children, but also because all parties benefit when vulnerable children are competently represented by counsel in adversarial proceedings.”

The website is dubbed the Immigrant Child Advocacy Network. It was put together by the American Bar Association’s working group on unaccompanied minors in collaboration with partner organizations, like Kids in Need of Defense and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

SEE ALSO: California seeks $3 million in legal aid for unaccompanied minors

The website provides links to resources and training materials on issues related to legal representation of children. It also provides a calendar of ongoing pro bono training opportunities and a list of legal providers who are looking for volunteers to assist children.

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of minors arrived at the U.S. southern border without legal documents, and without a parent or guardian. Many of them came from Central America and were escaping gang violence, abuse and poverty in their home countries.

The wave of unaccompanied minors reached an all time high this fiscal year, with a total of 68,434 children who were apprehended at the southern border through the end of September, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

While delivering remarks during a seminar on Central America on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden spoke about the actions the Obama administration took to curve the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. They included boosting border security, increasing resources to screen and house unaccompanied minors and launching a campaign in Central America to warn about the dangers of making the treacherous journey to the U.S.

“We collectively still have a lot of work to do,” Biden said. “But today, the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S. border is the lowest it has been since January 2013.”

The American Bar Association was among the organizations that called for a coordinated response to the influx of unaccompanied minors.

At its annual conference in August, the group’s members expressed concerns over how many unaccompanied minors were going before immigration judges without legal representation. They also worried that many children were being sped through the immigration system, giving little time to find lawyers and build strong cases for the children.

SEE ALSO: Jeh Johnson: Far fewer unaccompanied minors are crossing the border

In response to this immigration crisis, the American Bar Association created the working group on unaccompanied minors. The group’s mission is to recruit, train and mentor pro bono attorneys who can provide children the legal assistance they need as they navigate the U.S. immigration system.

And now, with the new website, the working group hopes to convince many of the American Bar Association’s 400,000 members to provide pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied minors.