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Juvenile Immigration Law

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Juvenile Immigration Law

This course is designed to provide a basic understanding of juvenile immigration law. It will provide an overview of the population of unaccompanied minor children, the immigration court system in the United States, and the forms of immigration relief that unaccompanied children are eligible for. Attendees will gain a comprehension of the different legal applications for unaccompanied children and what is required to complete such applications. This course will also provide insight into the challenges of working with immigrant youth who have experienced trauma and upheaval in their lives.

Presenters

Priya Konings
Regional Director
KIND (Kids In Need of Legal Defense)

Transcript

Priya Konings - Hello, thank you everyone for joining me on this training regarding Juvenile Immigration Law. My name is Priya Konings and I'm a Regional Director for Legal Services at Kids in Need of Defense. By way of background, Kids in Need of Defense is an international organization with offices around the United States as well as in Central America and Europe. We have been in existence since 2008, and we work solely with children who are refugees. We provide direct legal representation as well as pro bono mentorship and we engage in robust policy advocacy. We are always looking for new pro bono attorneys. So if you are interested, please feel free to visit our website at www.supportkind.org to find out more about how you can volunteer to work with children who are refugees.

Today's training will focus on understanding what unaccompanied children are, where they come from and why they are arriving in the United States. We will have a background on the immigration law system, and then we will get into the nitty gritty of understanding humanitarian immigration relief, specifically for unaccompanied minors or children under the age of 18. We will talk about Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum, and a variety of different visas. And then we'll also touch on a few helpful practice considerations.

Okay, let's get started. So to kick us off, I'd like to talk more about what an unaccompanied minor child is. Unaccompanied minor children are children who are under the age of 18 and they're arriving in the United States without a parent or a legal guardian. They receive this designation when they arrive at a US border. The majority unaccompanied minor children that arrive in the United States are originating from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We don't receive many children from Mexico because our US laws dictate that children coming from a contiguous country such as Mexico or Canada, can be turned around and sent back to their home country. But children coming from a non-con continuous country, such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will be apprehended at border and then processed and are allowed to stay in the United States to seek immigration relief. The majority of clients that we work with are Spanish speakers and some also speak indigenous languages. If you are to take on a case where you are working with an unaccompanied minor child from one of these countries, it would be helpful to secure an interpreter to communicate with your client.

You can see here, we've provided some numbers regarding the number of children who are arriving in the United States. So in fiscal year 2018, it was 50,000 in 2019, it was about 76,000. The number dropped significantly in 2020 due to the policies of the administration. But that number has continued to rise and is back at numbers similar to 2018 and even before that we were typically seeing about 50 to 75,000 children arrive per year since 2013. It's important to understand why these children are fleeing to the United States. So the majority of children who are coming as unaccompanied minors, as I mentioned, are coming from the Northern triangle. The Northern triangle consisting of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are particularly dangerous parts of the world. They are essentially being run by gangs. The gangs serve as the defacto government and they rule through violence. So most civilians are subject to constant gang violence, threat of sexual assault, human trafficking, domestic violence, different types of abuse, extortion and children specifically are then subject to abandonment and neglect because their parents are often recruited into gangs or trafficked by gangs or murdered by gangs. As a result, huge influxes of children have been coming to the United States since 2013, which is around the time when the gangs really took over control in these countries.

Next we're gonna talk about the basics of the immigration court system. First and foremost, it's important to understand who all of the players are in the juvenile immigration process. So we have the Department of Homeland Security, which houses customs and border protection, ICE, which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Trial Attorneys, USCIS which is the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Asylum Office.

So CBP is the entity that immigrants can coming from Central America will encounter as soon as they get to the border. ICE is tasked with enforcement of proceedings against anyone who has entered without a legal basis for entering the United States. And then you who have trial attorneys who work with ICE to enforce in the court system our immigration laws and then you have USCIS and the Asylum Office, which are different entities that adjudicate immigration claims and can provide things like Green Cards and asylee status and adjudicate other immigration petitions. Then you have the Department of Justice which houses the immigration courts, including the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is where appellate cases go in the immigration court system. You have the Department of Health and Human Services. And under that umbrella is ORR the Office of Refugee Resettlement. And ORR is the entity that is responsible for the placement of unaccompanied minor children that come across our borders. And then finally, you'll see that we included state courts in this diagram regarding who's who in juvenile immigration. And even though state words aren't necessarily a part of the immigration court system, they do play a role in one of the forms of immigration relief that unaccompanied minor children are eligible for. And so we included that here because it's an important player that you should be aware of in cases involving unaccompanied minors.

So now that we kind of understand who the players are, it's also essential to think through the process of what happens when children arrive to the United States.

 So once a child crosses the border, they're apprehended by customs and border protection. At that time, the child may be entering with a family or they may be entering unaccompanied. And we discussed the definition of unaccompanied that's any child under the age of 18 who does not have a parent or legal guardian with them. If the child is unaccompanied, they will receive that designation from CBP, which is important because it offers them certain benefits when they're moving through the immigration court system.

Once they have been designated, the ICE will issue and file a notice to appear, that notice to appear initiates removal proceedings against that child. And that notice to appear it's essentially a charging document. It has a date for when the child has to appear in court and will include certain allegations essentially the outline that the child arrived in the United States and without a lawful basis or visa for entering. And so at this time, ICE is gonna be seeking their removal, but they will be able to go through the court system so that they can provide information to the court about any legal basis they have remaining in the United States.

Once CBP determines the child is an unaccompanied minor, they are, as I mentioned, afforded benefits not just in the court system, but also under our immigration laws. They're afforded certain benefits regarding their status upon arrival or I should say upon designation as an unaccompanied child. They are, for example, legally only able to stay in a border facility for the general population of immigrants for 72 hours. And then they have to be transferred to an ORR facility that's specifically designed to house children. And this is important and it's considered a benefit because the ORR facility is for children are significantly better than other facilities in that they have certain services, including medical professional children can see therapists, they can get a physical, they can have any ailments checked by medical staff.

In addition, the ORR facility is tasked with locating and screening any potential sponsors for the child. Typically when children arrive in the US, they have information about a sponsor who's living in the US. That sponsor could be a parent that they were separated from previously, or that it came to the United States before they did. It could be a relative, such as an older sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent. It could be a family friend, whatever information the child provides to ORR, they are required to locate and screen that individual and after the cursory background check, if the sponsor's willing to take the child ORR must release the child to that individual. At that point, if the removal proceedings have been initiated wherever the child was located in an ORR facility, the proceedings should be transferred to the local immigration court, whichever immigration court has jurisdiction in regards to where the child is placed with the sponsor and the child will be referred to a legal services organization who can potentially provide representation. It's important to note that many organizations, such as Kids in Need of Defense are at capacity and in that scenario, the child either has to appear unrepresented because there's no right to counsel in immigration court, or they'll have to pay for a provider, a legal professional to represent them in immigration court. As I mentioned earlier, the notice to appear initiates the removal proceedings against a child.

There is subsequently a hearing where the child is formally charged with the allegations in the notice to appear, which essentially states that they arrived in the United States at the border without a visa or legal reason for entering the United States and that they're under the age of 18, which is why they're an unaccompanied minor, and because they're an unaccompanied minor, they're able to enter the US and pursue immigration relief instead of being immediately returned. After that hearing, typically what will happen is the court will give the child an opportunity to secure counsel, or if counsel is present, they can advocate to the court that they are gonna seek immigration relief for this child, but they need a significant amount of time to do so. Most forms of immigration relief are pursued outside of the immigration court and I'll explain what that means a little bit later on. But typically the attorney will pursue immigration relief will continuously notify the court that they need more time as they're pursuing those forms of relief. Once those forms of relief are obtained, the immigration court proceedings will be terminated. Also the attorney will request that they're terminated and typically the court will grant that request.

If there's no form of immigration relief that the child is eligible for, eventually there'll be an individual hearing where the child can put forth any legal arguments they might have for remaining in the United States. And if they're unsuccessful, they will be ordered removed and sent back to their home country. Now that we kind of understand how the court process works, let's dig deeper into the forms of immigration relief that juveniles are eligible for. As I mentioned, you'll already have gone to immigration court as the attorney, entered your appearance and are asking the court for more time to pursue one of these forms of relief, which include Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum, and U and T visas. We'll start off by discussing Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This is by far the most common form of relief that juveniles are eligible for. Keep in mind that all children who are entering the United States can potentially be eligible for SIJS. They don't necessarily have to be unaccompanied.

However, because this form of relief pertains to children have been abused or neglected by their parents or a parent, typically it's unaccompanied minors that are seeking this form of relief. But even a child who entered the country with one parent and were previously abused by the other parent could pursue this form of relief. At Kids in Need of Defense we work only with unaccompanied minor children because they are the most vulnerable of the children entering the United States. But if you were to represent a child who came with a parent, and as long as they were abused, neglected by another parent, they could still pursue SIJS. SIJS eligibility criteria is essentially a five prong test. The child must be unmarried. They must be under the age of 21. They must be found to be dependent on a juvenile court or placed in the custody of an individual or government entity. It must be found that it is not viable for them to reunify with one or both parents because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. And it must be found that it's not in their best interests to return to their country of nationality or last habitual residents. You can see here that it does say under the age of 21, that means that anybody under the age of 21 is eligible for SIJS.

Therefore, if you are representing an unaccompanied minor, which as you may recall as I mentioned, had to receive that designation prior to the age of 18, but then subsequently turns 19 or 20, they're still eligible for SIJS. There are a couple other factors I wanna mention, but I'll discuss that in a little bit. What's important here is that you have to get a court order that lays out these five findings. So the SIJS process is actually a three step process. First, seeking jurisdiction of a juvenile court, which will make the five findings. Then you take that order that lays out those findings and submit it to USCIS, which is the government entity that is tasked with adjudicating these types of claims. It's housed under the Department of Homeland Security, and they will receive the I-360 petition with the court order. They will adjudicate that petition with the court order, and they will issue either an approval or a denial.

 Once you receive an approval of that I-360 petition, your client is now designated as a special immigrant juvenile. You can take that along with a 485 or Adjustment of Status Form, and submit that back to USCIS seeking adjustment of status for your client so they can obtain a Green Card. It's important to note that before you submit the Green Card application, two things have to happen. One, you have to dismiss the immigration court proceedings. As you recall, while you're pursuing SIJS you've been notifying the immigration court that you are pursuing SJIS and that they should hold off on removing your client until you are successful in obtaining SIJS for your client.

Once you have received that designation, that gives you a basis to go to the immigration court and say, I've been successful. I've obtained a designation for my client. You can now dismiss these proceedings, and then you can submit the adjustment of status application to USCIS. The other thing that has to happen is there has to be a visa available. There is a significant backlog. So on your I-360 approval form, there will be a date which will designate when you can apply for the Green Card. Once those two things happen, you'll submit your form and ideally obtain a Green Card for your client. We're gonna discuss these steps in a little bit more detail. The very first step is obtaining the court order that makes the five essential findings that you need for an SIJS designation. In order to obtain such an order, you have to find a vehicle to get into family or juvenile court. Typically in the majority of these cases, we are going to be seeking custody or guardianship of the child by the sponsor that they're living with. So that means you will ask the family court to take jurisdiction of this case, because you're pursuing custody of the child by the sponsor, whoever that might be. So essentially you're filing a petition or a guardianship petition.

In some situations, there may already be a custody petition. You can ask for that to be modified, or there might already be a foreign custody order, which you will ask to be registered. Both the modification and registration will also provide you with an avenue for getting jurisdiction in family court and then the family court can make the necessary SIJS findings. In some scenarios, your client may be in foster care or in the delinquency process. And if that's the case, the court already has jurisdiction and there's already an open case and then you can simply go into those courts at a hearing and ask for those five findings to be made. Or you can file a petition in those cases asking for the five findings to be made. When you are asking for these five findings to be made, you do need to prove that the child is under the age of 21 and that's by a birth certificate. I mentioned earlier that there is an important factor to consider regarding the age. Even though for SIJS eligibility the child has to be under 21, usually to get into family or juvenile court, the child has to be under the age of 18. Some states have passed laws that if a child is eligible for SIJS they can get into state court up until the age of 21, but not all states have made that addition to their family court laws. It's important to check the jurisdiction that you're practicing in to make sure you understand what age cutoff is for getting into family court and obtaining this court order. If it is age 18, you just have to get in and out of state court by the time the child turns 18 and then you have up until age 21 to file with USCIS. Because again, SIJS eligibility criteria is up until the age of 21. The child does have to be unmarried. That usually is not much of an issue in our cases, because these are juveniles.

They have to be found dependent on the juvenile court or placed in the custody of an individual or government entity. If your client is in foster care or in delinquency court, they will be dependent on the juvenile court. And if you're pursuing a custody order, then this prong is satisfied because the court, when making your five prong findings will also place the child in the custody of an individual whoever you are seeking to be the custodian in your custody petition. The two key elements to this eligibility criteria are the last two prongs of this test. The court must find that it is not viable for the child to reunify with one or both parents because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The good news is the law now reads one or both historically used to say both. And this means many more children are eligible for relief under SIJS because we only have to prove one parent is an abuser or abandoned or neglected the child.

To prove this prong of the test, you likely wanna provide affidavits and any supplemental evidence you have such as medical records, photographs, anything that'll prove that the child was abused or abandoned or neglected by one or both parents. The court specifically does have to state in the order that it is not viable for the child to reunify with the abusive parent because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect under that jurisdiction's abuse, abandonment, and neglect laws. And then finally, the court has find that it's not in the best interest of the child to return to the country of nationality. This one is not so difficult to prove. As we discussed all of the situations in home countries, you can provide country conditions. You can show that the child was not able to go to school. You can discuss how the abusive parent is in home country, and there's no one else to take care of the child. There are a number of factors you can utilize to prove this prong. Once you've gotten your court order, and it's important to note that you can have a custody order and a separate order making the SIJS findings, or you can have one order that places a child in the custody of the sponsor and also makes SIJS findings and those are embedded in the same order. It doesn't really matter if you have two orders or one, the point is is that they just have to lay out the five prong test very clearly. At that point, you're gonna go ahead and file with USCIS asking for the SIJS designation.

It's very important to note that even with the designation, your client is still undocumented, which means they're not able to work, and they're not legally residing in the United States. They're still in removal proceedings. However, it does give them the basis for filing for a Green Card. And it does give you the basis to go to the immigration court and ask them to terminate the removal proceedings because your client is imminently going to be applying for a Green Card. Typically, we file that motion to terminate the immigration court proceedings once the visa becomes available, because that suggests to the court that the Green Card process is about to begin imminently and the court is therefore more likely to terminate those immigration proceedings.

Once you file for adjustment of status, you can be scheduled for adjustment of status interview in some situations USCIS chooses to waive that interview process and simply adjudicates the petition and sends a Green Card in the mail, or you may have to come for an interview, and then they'll adjudicate the petition after the interview and send the Green Card after that. If for some reason, the immigration court denies your petition to terminate the removal proceedings and keeps the case open in immigration court, you won't be able to file with USCIS because jurisdiction is still pending with immigration court, but you can just go ahead and file the adjustment of status 485 Form in the immigration court and the court will go ahead and adjudicate it in a court hearing. It should be noted that it is preferred to pursue adjustment status with USCIS because it's a far less adversarial forum, it can be stressful for your child client to have to appear in court for the 485 adjustment of status process. But you always have that option if for some reason they refuse to terminate the removal proceedings.

Okay, next we're gonna discuss Asylum. Asylum is different than USDIS because... Asylum is different than SIJS because unlike SIJS, which is a form of relief that only children are eligible for, adults can also access the asylum process and be designated as asylees. There are however certain benefit that have been embedded in the law which are specifically for children. The process of filing for asylum is to file a form called a I-589 form. One of the benefits that are afforded to children is that they, if as long as they're filing before the age of 18, they can file with an Asylum Office as opposed to filing with immigration court. Now children can file I-589 with an Asylum Office before they turn 18 if they are not in immigration removal proceedings. If they are an immigration removal proceedings and they're under the age of 18, they can still file with the Asylum Office if they haven't designated as an unaccompanied minor child. The advantage of appearing in an Asylum Office as opposed to having your claim heard in immigration court is multifaceted. First, it's a far less adversarial forum. The interview takes place simply with the child, their attorney and an Asylum Officer. And if you are unsuccessful at the Asylum Office, you actu

ally then get a second bite at the apple and can pursue your claim in immigration court as well. At the Asylum Office, once you file and are granted an interview, you're gonna submit all of your written legal arguments supporting evidence one week before the interview, and then you'll attend the interview. The client does have to go for fingerprints for a background check prior of the interview taking place. The other special rights that are afforded to children include being exempt from a one year filing deadline. So if the child arrived when they were 10 years old, but they don't file until they're 15, they won't be barred from having their case heard adults on the other hand are subject to a one year filing deadline and children can pursue an asylum claim that's independent from their parents' applications. So what are the elements of asylum? What do you need to be determined in order to be designated as an asylee? The definition of an asylee is any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality and who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of a persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. So if you break this down into elements, the child must have been found to have experienced past persecution or have a fear of future persecution on account of their race, their religion, their nationality, their political opinion, or their membership in a particular social group by their government or an entity that their government cannot or will not control. For the majority of unaccompanied minor children that arrive in the United States, they are arriving from Central America. These as we noted are countries that are plagued by a significant amount of gang violence.

So typically our cases involve persecution by gang members on account of one of these different categories by an entity that the government cannot or will not control, which is the gang members. Let's break this down into little pieces. Persecution. So you have to prove that either the persecution already took place or there's evidence to show that you have a well founded fear of your future persecution. What exactly is persecution? It can be actual harm. So torture, injury, violence, rape, sexual assault, forced abortion. It can also be a threat of such harm or a threat to the family members of your child client. In order to prove that there's a well founder for future persecution, it can be helpful to show that the child experienced significant threats and those threats can be overt threats that are articulated, or they can be symbolic. For example, wielding a gun, putting a gun to the child's head and so forth. You're going to want to put forth your evidence in a number of different format, including affidavits, country conditions, photographs, maps, affidavits from experts, pretty much anything you can think of that'll support your claim.

When you are showing that there was past persecution or future persecution, you have to show that there is a nexus. And that means that the persecution occurred or that there's a fear that it will occur on account of a protected ground. And that protected ground is the reason, the main reason that the prosecutor sought to harm your child client. It has to be the main motivator. So for example, if you're saying a child experienced violence on account of their religion. So they were persecuted by gang members because they were Catholic, they were a devout Catholic, and this is evident by X, Y, and Z. And you would have to prove that the gang members were specifically targeting your child client because of their religion. Maybe because they were harmed when they were at church or when they were engaging in church activities, maybe because the gangs made direct statements to the child, such as, because you're a member of this church, I am going to harm you in X, Y, and Z way and so forth. The protected grounds are race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and particular social group. An example of race would be an indigenous group. Religion could be a devout Catholic, nationality is indigenous nation. Political opinion could be for example, there are groups in Central America that engage in specific anti-gang activities. The gang may be angered by these activities and seek to harm individuals who are part of those groups. And so they would be person executing those children based on their political opinions.

And then there's membership in a particular social group. Particular social group is sort of a catchall, it's any group that meets three elements, immutability, socially distinct and particular. So the group has to have these three characteristics. They have to be socially distinct in that they're recognized in the community as a social group, and it can't be in group. An example of immutability would be LGBTQ or member of a certain family, right? If you are a member of the Smith family, you can't change that, that's an immutable characteristic. Socially distinct, members of LGBTQ are often socially distinct and identifiable within a certain community. And they must be particular. One important thing to note is that the particular social group cannot be defined by the persecution itself. So for example, young people who are victims of gang violence. That cannot be a particular social group because the argument is circular. They have to be a particular social group that has nothing to do with the persecution. And then finally, the last element is that the government is unwilling or unable to protect your client. You can prove this by, for example, if you wanna say that the government was unwilling or unable to protect the client, the client did reach out to police. They did seek assistance from the government, but the government was not able to provide them with that protection. If you have a police report or a log of times that your client called the police or sought help, that will assist you in proving that element.

 It's important to note that asylum law changes constantly. Asylum law is defined very heavily by case law. And there are cases coming out all the time, which change the landscape of asylum law. And the cases often pertain to certain jurisdictions. Depending on which circuit you're in, you may be able to do research and find laws that benefit a particular claim that you're making. It's important when pursuing asylum for your client, that you do ample research and engage heavily in reading and analysis of asylum case law. If you can quote those cases in your brief and cite to them and use them as a basis for supporting your claim, you are more likely to be successful, especially if you are at the immigration court level. In the Asylum Office, your client's credibility and their ability to interview well will be most important. But at the immigration court, you will be appearing in front of a judge. And so the most compelling legal arguments you can make will weigh heavily in your favor. Now we're gonna move on to discuss other forms of relief that your client might be eligible for. These forms of relief are available to both children and adults. First, there is U visas. U visas are visas that are available to any victim of a crime. That crime has to have occurred in the United States. The individual who is the victim must cooperate with police, the criminal justice system, anyone from the government who's involved in prosecuting the crime. And there is a list of crimes that qualify for a U visa. It's important that you first research that list of crimes in order to determine whether or not the crime that your client was a victim of would qualify them for a U visa. If they are in fact eligible, they should be cooperating with the investigation and the court.

And then you can apply for them to obtain this U visa. You will, as a part of the application process, need documentation and certification from the entity that's conducting the investigation, which is the police or from the court system and that will be a determining factor in whether your client is granted the U visa. There is a significant backlog for U visas, but it remains a form of relief that many unaccompanied minor children are eligible for. Then there are T visas. T visas are specifically for victims of human trafficking that can include sex or labor trafficking, and it's any kind of sex or labor that's induced by force fraud or coercion. People often overlook the labor trafficking option, but for unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, labor trafficking is somewhat common. Many children are brought here to work for individuals in the US and they have to turn over all their wages to the person that's trafficking them. They're not permitted to go to school. Sometimes they're not permitted to leave the house or the place of business.

And so if your client gives you information that leads you to think that they are being trafficked, you can research the process for a T visa and file for a T visa for them. There is no backlog for T visas unlike the U visa and so you will obtain that visa very quickly. Then there is prosecutorial discretion. This should only be utilized if your client is not eligible for any other form of relief, but has certain compelling factors. Perhaps they have a child here in the US, perhaps they're taking care of an elderly parent. In that scenario, you can approach opposing counsel in immigration court, the trial attorney, and you can discuss with them the possibility of prosecutorial . Essentially what you will be seeking from them is a guarantee that they will dismiss the immigration court proceedings and no longer be seeking removal proceedings against your client. It does not offer your client a legal basis for remaining in the US. They will not be able to work, but the government will no longer actively be seeking their removal and so they can reside in the United States without the threat of being imminently removed.

Voluntary departures for those who wish to voluntarily return to their home country, it's also an option for someone who's going to be imminently removed because they weren't able to secure immigration relief. In that scenario, they may choose voluntary departure as opposed to receiving a removal order, because if they decide to come back to the United States, there'll be less barriers for them seeking immigration relief at that time than if they had a removal order. One final point I would like to make is that SIJS designation does not provide a legal basis for remaining in the United States. You have to apply for a Green Card. For some of these other forms of relief, such as asylum U and T visas, once you're designated as an asylee and once you have a U visa or a T visa, you have a legal basis for remaining in the US and you don't necessarily have to pursue a Green Card. It is recommended because Green Card holders have additional benefits. But once you obtain this form of relief, you are legally allowed to remain in the United States while your visa is current. There are and have been numerous changes in the law over the last several years.

It is recommended that regardless of what form of relief you're pursuing, you do check all case law and statutes to ensure that you're following the most updated regulations so that you are not making any errors in the process that you're following for your client. So the reason we included the section on practice considerations is that working with children is particularly challenging. It includes a host of special considerations that is important for you as a practitioner to think through before taking on such a case.

So when we work with unaccompanied minor children, we think of them as being at the heart of these three sort of vulnerable groups. They are children, they're trauma survivors, and they are immigrants. So what exactly does that mean? As children, it's important to become trained in child interview techniques. For a special immigrant juvenile application or an asylum application, you're going to be conducting many detailed interviews of your child client. You're going to be asking a lot of sensitive information. You're going to be asking for details to perform the most compelling case possible, either in the special immigrant juvenile context regarding the abuse or abandonment they experienced at the hands of their parent or in the asylum context the persecution that they experienced in home country. So understanding how to interview children in the most effective and least traumatizing way is important.

The other consideration about our clients being children is that they may not have access to transportation, their own cell phone. You may have to work around school hours. So these are all important things to note. Our clients we consider all of our all refugee children to be trauma survivors in that they experience trauma not only in their home country, but also during their arduous journey to the United States which I described earlier could take months. Many of them are coming to the United States, but they are apprehended or turned back in Mexico along the way and then have to start again. So it can be a very time consuming process and particularly dangerous as you can imagine. So again understanding interview techniques, not just for children, but also for trauma survivors so you can avoid re-triggering the clients and so that you can gather the information effectively and quickly without belaboring the process so that they have to experience the trauma again. And then finally, it's important to note that our clients are immigrants and they're also normally placed with sponsors who are immigrants. Immigrants face both cultural challenges.

It's important to take trainings on cultural sensitivity, but also logistical challenges. For example, the sponsor may not be working legally, so they may not have access to vacation, holiday, or sick days, which means they may not be able to take time off work to meet with you to participate in the process of the case. You may have to meet on off hours. They may not be comfortable or knowledgeable enough to use public transportation. They may be intimidated or unwilling to trust an attorney because in their home country, attorneys weren't always honest or perhaps were often trying to secure funds from them without putting forth a legitimate case. So all of these elements are important to remember so that you can put your client at ease and you can talk them through any concerns that they might have. So we consider the part of the representation, or sort of the essence of the representation to include these four pillars, which are confidentiality, communication, patience, and express wishes versus best interest. So I'll start with express wishes versus best interest.

So it's important to remember that even though you're representing a child, you are in this scenario, child's counsel, which means you have to proceed with whatever the express wishes of the child are. So this isn't like a GAL scenario in foster care where you might be proceeding with whatever's in the best interest of the child. Here, you have to follow the expressed wishes. So what does that mean? Essentially, if the child wishes to pursue asylum instead of special immigrant juvenile status even though they're special immigrant juvenile status is stronger, if they do have an asylum case and that's what they wish to pursue, that is as their attorney what you would be pursuing. Similarly, if they choose voluntary departure, even though you don't think it's in their best interest to return to home country, but for whatever reason, that's what they desire, that is how you will have to proceed. That's concerning for some practitioners who always wanna do what's in the best interest of children, but that is why we bring this up in this training, because it's important to remember that you do have to follow the express wishes of the child even if you don't think it's in their interests and regardless of the fact that they're not an adult. Communication is also particularly important.

As I mentioned earlier, you will want to take some trainings or read some literature on communicating and interacting with child clients and traumatize clients so that you can make sure you're communicating with them in a child friendly way that is respectful of the fact that they're also trauma survivors. Patience is something else we consider a hallmark of working with children who are refugees. It may appear at times that your child client is not able to remember certain important elements or facts that has to do with the fact that they are children and also they are trauma survivors. And so not everything will be particularly fresh in their mind. It's also important to remember that as children, particularly, if your client is a teenager, they may have other priorities and not recognize the significance of their immigration court proceedings. They may not realize how important each application is and how each court hearing is because they are not really able to understand the depth or the significance of these court hearings and that it may result in their removal from the United States. Patience is also important because as I mentioned earlier, there are cultural differences with some of our clients who come from Central America. For example, punctuality. As lawyers we have been taught to be incredibly punctual. Our clients may have a, there might be cultural reasons for charting this and also practical. As I mentioned, they may not have access to a vehicle. They might be borrowing or securing a ride from a family friend and can't control what time they arrive at. So it's important to remember to be patient. There's also a significant power dynamic between our clients and their attorneys, which may also lead them to be less open and less willing to share information. And that too requires an element of patience. And then finally confidentiality.

So our clients often have a difficult time understanding confidentiality. As I mentioned they may not trust attorneys because they've been scanned by attorneys previously in home country. And they may also be conflating your role with someone from immigration services, from the government, from police. So it's important to remind them and to explain to them in detail what your role is as their attorney, how you will be proceeding with any course of action that they expressly desire and that anything they tell you will be confidential. And that as an attorney, you are bound by the rules of ethics. And so confidentiality is particularly, is a hallmark of our ethics rules and they can trust that whatever details they're sharing with you regarding their case will be confidential, and that you will discuss sharing any of that information in any of their applications relief as it is necessary for their case. And they will be able to give you permission to do so. So it may be helpful to think through in advance of meeting with your clients how you'll explain to them the concept of confidentiality and how you will work together and that they should trust you to keep the details of their case confidential. So those are sort of the four element of representation that we consider to be key for any of our cases.

In addition to the four pillars of representation, I also would like to mention a few important practice considerations. So the first is to remember that in all of these cases when you are interviewing children, as well as caregivers, parents, or anybody else who may be providing an affidavit in your client's case, it's important that you interview the child and these other adults separately. A child may not be comfortable disclosing certain sensitive information to you in front of the parent or caregiver. And that is especially true if they have experienced significant drama or violence. You do owe a duty of confidentiality to your client who is the child so it's important to remind that child that you will keep any information they disclosed you confidential. However, if there's a possibility that that information may need to be brought out at a hearing or interview, you may wanna let the child know that in advance so they can tell you what they're comfortable with being disclosed. In addition, you wanna look out for any kind of red flags of abuse or neglect by the caregiver that the child is living with to make sure if you're proceeding in an SIJS case that this is somebody who the child wants to be their legal custodian.

While there may be disagreements with the parent on which form of relief to pursue for your child client, again, we are proceeding in a express wishes format in these cases and so you would not be agreeing with the parent regarding the future of the case as to the best interests of the child, but rather you're gonna be focusing on the express wishes of the child, which may in some situations conflict with what the parent wishes, but your duty is to the child client. A couple of other issues you may wanna look out for with your child clients is they may be reuniting with a caregiver after a long time of separation. They may be having trouble adjusting to the community because they're coming from a different country. They're may be language barriers in their educational system or even in the home. And so you may want to have some social services referrals available to provide to your child client. There you can go to kinds website or other local nonprofits and organizations to find out where you can access certain referrals for the child. Or you can also ask a child with their permission to contact their school to see what you need to do to advocate for them in that arena. But these are some helpful practice considerations when working with child clients that maybe useful to you particularly with a child client who has experienced some trauma.

As a final note, I will just say that working with children who are refugees is an incredibly challenging experience for the reasons that I mentioned. The immigration court system is particularly complicated. Our cases can take quite a bit of time either because in the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status scenario there is a significant backlog in the asylum process because the cases are particularly complicated to put forth. But these cases are also particularly rewarding because these children are fleeing from such dangerous situations because they've experienced so much trauma. Once you're able to secure a relief for them, it is a particularly gratifying experience. And so I highly recommend considering taking one of these cases whether pro bono or low bono or through your regular line of work and working with a child you will find it to be rewarding regardless of the outcome.

Thank you so much for your time. And I hope this training was valuable and please feel free to reach out to me. My contact information has been provided to you. If any questions arise during a case that you have involving an unaccompanied minor child and securing immigration relief on their behalf.


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