Friday, December 18, 2009

CALLING ALL ATTORNEYS

Six months ago I joined the board of directors of KIND, or Kids in Need of Defense, an organization begun by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie to help immigrant children gain legal representation.

So this is a shout out to any and all attorneys who are readers of Enrique’s Journey to help KIND!

About 8,000 children come to the U.S. each year without a parent or guardian from countries other than Mexico and are placed in U.S. custody. Most are caught at the border. They are fleeing abuse, torture, persecution, or extreme hardship and poverty. Some are victims of trafficking. Others come, as Enrique did, to be with a parent who left them behind.

Today, in what KIND and I believe is a shameful situation, more than half of these children go through immigration proceedings without a lawyer. That’s because U.S. immigration law doesn’t require that children have lawyers in immigration court.

“It is unacceptable that we allow children—some as young as toddlers—to go through complex and often adversarial immigration proceedings without the help of a lawyer,” says KIND Executive Director Wendy Young. “Many children who have viable claims for US protection are unable to present their claims to an immigration judge without help and are returned to their home country where their well-being, or even their lives, may be in danger. Children who are represented are three times more likely to obtain immigration relief, which can literally be lifesaving for this vulnerable population.”

I witnessed myself, in the course of reporting Enrique’s Journey, children who were eight or nine years old going before an immigration judge to defend their rights with no help and no attorney. KIND’s Wendy Young has seen cases where babies were carried into court to face judges without lawyers.

KIND’s solution? To get pro-bono attorneys around the country to volunteer to represent a child. The organization’s staff of 15 train and mentor these lawyers in six locations around the country on how to handle these cases. They support them all along the way. So far, they have obtained the commitment of 60 law firms, and trained 900 attorneys. These lawyers are now representing more than 700 children from 31 countries. The organization is funded by foundations, corporations, private donors, and law firms around the country. Also, A T & T, Marathon Oil, and Royal Bank of Canada are corporate partners.

I gave a talk for KIND to attorneys from Troutman Sanders in Orange County, California, this year. I listened to attorneys who had volunteered their time representing a child talk about how incredibly rewarding it was for them.

So if you work as an attorney in Los Angeles, Houston, Washington DC, Baltimore, Newark or New York City, KIND has local offices and can help you represent one of these children. If you are an attorney elsewhere, let KIND know you are willing to help if a child that needs representation is in your city or area. If you are a university law school, offer to have your students help KIND.

For more information here is KIND’s website: www.supportkind.org

If you want to get involved, email me at sonia@sonianazario.com, and I’ll get you linked in to the right person.