Your Honor, Can I Play With That Gavel? - New York Times

The U.S. government expects children as young as 18 months to represent themselves in immigration court. Lawyers in Miami made a coloring book to help kids understand what they’re facing.

By Jennifer Anzardo Valdes

Video by Leah Varjacques

Aug. 22, 2018

Media coverage of the border crisis has heavily focused on separated parents and children. But migrant children’s nightmares are just beginning once they set foot here, as documented in the video above. Every child that crosses the border without permission has an immigration court case to fight, but there is no right to free counsel in that court.

So children, who sometimes speak only an indigenous language, are going up alone against government lawyers to fight to stay in the United States. If that sounds absurd, that’s because it is. Congress has the power to change this.

After President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy went into effect, we at Americans for Immigrant Justice began to see an increase in young children needing legal representation. We thought: How do we get toddlers to understand the gravity of their situation?

We created a coloring book to explain to these children their rights. It explains concepts such as what a country is, who is an immigrant and what a judge does. We read the book to separated and unaccompanied children as part of our “know your rights” presentations and have them act out scenarios from the story.

The kids in this video op-ed are the lucky ones. They were released from a children’s shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to family members in Miami. We are representing them in court free. But for many children we engage with at the shelters, the coloring book is the only legal advice they receive.

The stakes are high: Over half of all children in immigration court are unrepresented. Nine out of 10 of them will be ordered deported. If we as a country are truly invested in protecting children, the bare minimum that we can do is ensure access to a lawyer for immigrant children who cannot afford one.

Jennifer Anzardo Valdes is the director of the Children’s Legal Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, a nonprofit law firm based in Miami.

Via The New York Times

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About Us:

AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.