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For Unaccompanied Children, Immigration Legal Representation Matters

March 30, 2023

The Advocates' Hanne Sandison and Kim Boche spoke recently at a fundraiser in support of our immigration legal services work. Hanne Sandison directs The Advocates' Refugee & Immigrant Program and attorney Kim Boche represents unaccompanied children living in the Upper Midwest who are navigating the immigration system.

Hanne Sandison began the program.

Good evening! It's so wonderful to see you all here in person and to both celebrate the important work our program is doing on behalf of child migrants and to discuss the ongoing needs our clients face.  

One of our core beliefs at The Advocates is rooted in the Refugee Convention: that no one should be deported to face persecution, torture, or human rights violations. The right to seek safety in another country from violence in your own is a core and necessary human right.  

And while, on paper, our country agrees and has made a commitment to ensuring that right is a reality, its actions and practices tell a different story.  

Recently, the Biden administration published its proposed changes to federal regulations that would eviscerate access to asylum and betray our commitment not to deport anyone to face persecution, torture, or a human rights violation. The problem is federal - but it's also local. 

You may have seen the recent frontpage article in The New York Times, reporting on the proliferation of immigrant child labor in the United States and calling out the illegal employment of immigrant children in dangerous jobs unfit for children. This is happening across the United States, including right here in Minnesota, in some of the most dangerous jobs, including meatpacking. High-profile investigations into child labor illustrate the peril people face when our immigration laws continue to exclude and expel, rather than create real options for people to migrate with dignity and in safety. 

We face real problems, but we are dedicated to pursuing real solutions to those problems, with our clients at the center. I'd like to turn it over to Kim Boche to share more about our program's work with child migrants. Kim is a staff attorney handling our more than 150 cases for unaccompanied children in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Kim represents clients themself, supports pro bono attorneys who represent children, and works to imagine and implement creative solutions for how to meet this growing need. Please welcome Kim. 

Kim Boche continued.

I want each of you to take a breath you don't have to close your eyes, but you can if you like. Take a moment to remember being a child. When you were scared, what place or person made you feel safe? What provided you a sense of warmth and security?  

Many of my clients have little familiarity with that warmth. From October 2022 to March 2023 Minnesota saw over 700 unaccompanied kids, kids who come to the United States without their parents, join our community. Last year, we saw over 1,000new faces. The year before that, another 1,000. Many of them have come to live in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, but these kids are living in communities around the state.  

Statistically speaking, half of these kids likely are living with siblings or close relatives, and about thirty-five percent with a parent or legal guardianJust over sixty percent of these kids are boys. About fifty-five percent are 15, 16, or 17 years old. That means the rest - more than 1000 newly arrived kiddos - are age 14 or younger. Almost half are from Guatemala, with others from Honduras and El Salvador. Many are fleeing their homes because of safety and security. 

Often kids have experienced serious human rights abuses: a lack of food, water, or shelter; forced displacement or gang violence; threats of physical and sexual violence or murder. They make a trip thousands of miles, vulnerable to exploitation, violence, often separated from their family and care givers. They show up in our schools, parks, churches, and in our immigration courts not knowing English and not knowing that we have laws on the books that are meant to protect them.  

And the tragic reality is that our immigration system is failing these children. Of the 2700 kids who've arrived in Minnesota in the last few years almost all have been placed in removal proceedings. They face a deportation hearing in front of an immigration judge. And because there is no right to government-appointed counsel in immigration hearings, in most cases, they face it alone.  

Like grownups in immigration court, kids bear the burden of proving they should not be deported. While kids may have real legal options, without an attorney, a child has virtually no chance of knowing about these options, let alone filing all the right forms in English, making the legal arguments, and providing all the evidence needed 

That's why, if they have an attorney, a child is seven times more likely to win their case and stay in the United States. 

The Advocates for Human Rights is dedicated to training lawyers to be those attorneys. Our pro bono model allows us to expand our reach so that kids in our community do not face our justice system alone and ultimately so they can thrive. Your donations allow us to train more attorneys, to make sure children are represented, and ultimately to put a stop to a cycle of trauma many migrant children are all too familiar with. Together we help children stay in safer homes, to go to school and learn instead of working to survive, and to experience that warm feeling we know as safety. So thank you all for being here tonight.

You can help.

Donate now to support The Advocates for Human Rights' legal representation work.

Volunteer to provide Pro Bono Representation to unaccompanied children and others in need of immigration legal help.