Feb 29, 2016 STATEMENT–LIRS Welcomes the Introduction of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016

Washington, D.C., Feb 29, 2016 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the organization established by Lutheran churches in America to serve uprooted people, applauds Senator Reid’s (D-NV) and Representatives Lofgren, Gutiérrez and Roybal-Allard’s introduction of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 (S. 2450 and H.R. 4646).  This bill would ensure that vulnerable migrants, including children and families fleeing persecution and seeking protection have legal representation during their immigration proceedings.  The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 upholds our nation’s proud history of and moral responsibility to protect the voiceless.

“We are compelled to provide safety, due process and compassion to the thousands of children and families who are fleeing Central America,” says Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “We cannot close our eyes or our hearts.”

Approximately 70% of families (women and children) and 50% of unaccompanied children currently are not represented by legal counsel during their deportation proceedings.  Research shows that immigrant children without legal representation are more often than not denied access to the legal relief for which they are eligible.  Just as the provision of legal counsel or best interest advocates are required in all other proceedings involving children—so should it be for children in immigration proceedings.  The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 would ensure that they are represented.

Similarly case management services if provided to children and families make it more likely that they will appear in court, find support services in their communities, understand their conditions of release, and ultimately strengthen and contribute to our communities.

LIRS strongly supports the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, which would:

  1. Require the government to appoint counsel to unaccompanied children, and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities and victims of abuse, torture, or violence.
  2. Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants, including those held in Customs and Border Protection facilities.
  3. Create a case management pilot project that is run by community-based, non-governmental organizations to increase court appearance rates.
  4. Require DHS to submit reports to Congress on the number of individuals identified in the Act who were represented by counsel and the number of individuals who received legal orientation presentations.

As a nation, we are defined by our compassion for the vulnerable and our commitment to justice for all.  Congress must ensure the best interests of children and uphold our legal obligations to protect those fleeing persecution and other forced migration.  LIRS applauds the introduction of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act which increases protections and due process for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals.