CLINIC launches program to assist minors with legal aid

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has been awarded a contract to match unaccompanied immigrant children who have recently been released from government custody with pro bono attorneys. CLINIC’s National Pro Bono Project for Children will train and support pro bono attorneys across the country to assist unaccompanied children in need of legal representation.

CLINIC was selected to operate the pro bono matching program by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), which oversees a national program that provides legal information and obtains pro bono counsel for both detained and released unaccompanied children nationwide. The legal services program is administered by Vera under a contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Unaccompanied children remain one of the most vulnerable populations among immigrants, and CLINIC welcomes the opportunity to expand the availability of legal services to those among us in need,” said Maria M. Odom, CLINIC’s executive director. “We are pleased and honored that the Vera Institute recognizes our role and capacity to coordinate and secure pro bono legal services for immigrant children.”

Every year, thousands of children take a dangerous journey across the border of the United States unaccompanied by an adult. Many are escaping gang violence, domestic abuse, and severe poverty in their native countries. Others come in hopes of reuniting with parents or other family members in the United States. Unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended by the federal government—nearly 8,000 each year—are placed under ORR’s care while their immigration cases are pending.[1] CLINIC, in partnership with Vera, will arrange free legal services for children who would otherwise have to navigate a complex immigration system alone in a foreign country.

Almost half of all minors who appear before an Immigration Judge are unrepresented by legal counsel.[2] Many of these children are eligible to remain in the United States based on their past experiences or fear of future persecution. Yet, without the advice or representation of a lawyer, a child has very little chance of fighting government efforts to deport him or her. This is particularly troubling given that some children face return to countries where they risk mistreatment, abuse, and even death.

“A core mission of CLINIC is to increase the accessibility of legal services, particularly to vulnerable populations. During our 20 years of existence, we have spearheaded a number of programs that fulfill this mission. The National Pro Bono Project for Children is a continuation of this very valuable work,” said Odom.

CLINIC has extensive experience in coordinating the provision of pro bono services. CLINIC previously coordinated the National Detention Representation Project which at the time was the largest detention services project in the country, providing assistance to immigration detainees at eight sites nationwide. For the past eight years, CLINIC has operated the BIA Pro Bono Project under which adults, in or out of detention, are matched with volunteer attorneys who represent them before the Board of Immigration Appeals.

In launching the National Pro Bono Project for Children, CLINIC will leverage its experience in delivering trainings and technical assistance to legal service providers. CLINIC’s expertise includes delivery of more than 40 intensive immigration and management trainings for legal service providers around the country each year, and three to four web-based trainings per month. CLINIC currently provides legal technical assistance regarding children and adults to the anti-trafficking project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services. In addition, CLINIC attorneys offer trainings on topics that are directly relevant to unaccompanied children, such as asylum, relief from removal, and overview of removal proceedings including detention-specific issues, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), U and T Visas, and trial skills.

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