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Letters to the 107th Congress

May 29, 2001

The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515

The Honorable Chris Cannon
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515

Re: H.R. 1904, The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2001

Dear Representatives Lofgren and Cannon:

I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to thank you for introducing H.R. 1904, the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act. This legislation is urgently needed to improve protections for unaccompanied immigrant children and to provide them with legal representation.

As you are aware, foreign-born children arrive in the United States every day unaccompanied by their parents or other legal guardians. Some are escaping political persecution, while others often are fleeing civil war, famine, abusive families, or other dangerous conditions in their home countries. When they arrive, these children generally have no legal status or support system and face a stressful and confusing ordeal.

Detained children are rarely aware of their rights under U.S. law and most of these children speak little or no English. They frequently are detained in secure facilities, sometimes commingled with juvenile offenders. Although some children may have U.S. family members to whom they can be released, many will remain in INS custody while their cases proceed through the immigration court system. Over 4,600 unaccompanied children were detained last year in over 90 different locations.

U.S. immigration laws do not allow for the appointment of counsel at the government's expense even though the consequences of deportation may be quite dire. As a result, these vulnerable children frequently have no choice but to represent themselves. With very little understanding of the law and legal process, they wait for their turn to appear before an immigration judge. Their cases are prosecuted by experienced INS trial lawyers. When these children are later deported, there is virtually no follow up to find out what happens to them. The ABA is working with state and local bar associations across the country to help these children secure pro bono representation. Still, this is an anomaly in our judicial system that urgently needs attention and legislative reform.

The ABA adopted policy in February 2001 addressing these matters. We strongly support enactment of legislation such as H.R. 1904 to provide every child in this situation with a court-appointed attorney to speak for that child and to assist him or her in applying for relief under U.S. law. In addition, the ABA strongly supports the provisions in H.R. 1904 that would create an independent office within the Department of Justice that would have an oversight role and ensure that children's interests are respected at all stages of immigration processes and while in immigration custody.

All children within our borders should be treated fairly by our laws and justice system and this legislation is a big step towards accomplishing this goal. We want to thank you for your leadership on behalf of these forgotten immigrant and refugee children and offer our assistance in working with you to secure these long overdue improvements.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

cc: Members, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims

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