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Letters to the 107th Congress

February 26, 2002

Re: The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2001 (S. 121)

Dear Senator:

I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to ask you to cosponsor the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act (S. 121). This legislation urgently is needed to improve protections for unaccompanied immigrant children and to provide them with legal representation.

Approximately 4,700 unaccompanied immigrant children enter the United States each year. Some are fleeing political persecution, war, famine, abusive families, or other dangerous conditions in their home countries. Many of the children are secured in juvenile jails where they are subject to strip searches, shackles and handcuffs. Although many of the children do not speak English and are unaware of their rights, less than half of them are represented by counsel.

Unfortunately, U.S. immigration laws do not allow for the appointment of counsel at the government's expense. As a result, these vulnerable children frequently have no choice but to represent themselves. Nervously they wait, with very little understanding of the law and legal process, for their turn to appear before an immigration judge where their cases are prosecuted by experienced INS trial lawyers. A fair process requires that the playing field be leveled by appointing counsel to protect the children's interests and help them to exercise their legal rights, both inside and outside of the courtroom.

S. 121 also would create an independent office of child welfare experts within the Department of Justice called the Office of Children's Services. This office would have an oversight role and ensure that children's interests are respected at all stages of immigration processes and custody. As it currently stands, there is an inherent conflict of interest in INS' acting as the caretaker of these children at the same time that it seeks to deport them. An independent office within DOJ would alleviate this situation.

It is important to ensure that all children within our borders are treated fairly by our laws and our justice system. We urge you to cosponsor S. 121 and help provide greater fairness in the treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

107th Congress Letters Home

Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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