Editorial: Families Must Be Protected

Central American mothers with children seeking shelter also deserve access to lawyers to avoid deportation

Editorial: Families Must Be Protected
Durante años el movimiento proinmigrante ha protestado las detenciones obligatorias, las deportaciones y separaciones de familias.
Foto: Shawn Thew / EFE

The federal government’s recent interest in having immigration courts speed up the processing of cases of Central American mothers and children running away from violence and seeking shelter in the U.S. could potentially lead to the deportation of even more families.

A Department of Justice internal memorandum distributed last week makes processing unaccompanied minors coming in from Central America a priority. These would be followed by cases of children who arrived with adults, usually their mothers. Still, the notice gives judges more time to process unaccompanied minors, in fact accelerating the consideration of family cases.

In immigration courts, defendants are deprived of the protections granted in regular courts. The fact that they do not even have the right to an attorney leads to aberrations within a society that brags about fairness. How can anyone explain that children who are at an age where they should be playing in a schoolyard are taken in front of a judge and forced to defend themselves in an already complex legal process against adults who want to deport them? 

This has driven several groups to take action to provide these minors with free legal assistance to help them defend themselves. Last week, for instance, several Democratic senators introduced the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which aims to guarantee that underage and “vulnerable” individuals — such as people with disabilities or victims of torture, abuse and violence — will have access to a lawyer as well as other legal counseling programs and services after they are released. While the measure would be of great help, it is unlikely to pass without Republican support at a moment when that Party is more interested in making deportations than in justice.

Immigration lawyers say that the most worrying aspect of the memo is that it will result in quicker deportations of family groups. According to figures gathered by TRAC, a data research center based in Syracuse University, 86% of the women with children who have arrived from Central America in the last two years lack legal representation. 

The situation of these underage children is a major cause for concern, but it is also urgent to protect from deportation the women and children who are the main targets of raids today.