AILA Training Addresses Children at Immigration Crossroads By Madhu N. Sharma I
n response to an overwhelming need to educate practitioners serving unaccompanied minor children, the Southern California Chapter of
AILA (SoCal AILA) with the help and support of local nonprofit advocates at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Public Counsel, and the Immigration Center for Women and Children (ICWC), conducted a CLE training on January 22, 2012, to teach private practitioners about the underused benefit of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The training was coordinated by KIND and SoCal AILA's pro bono liaisons at the request of three immigration judges at the Los Angeles Immigration Court who serve the juvenile docket. Its purpose was to increase detection and effective representation for unrepresented children in removal proceedings.
The Los Angeles Immigration Court is one of few jurisdictions in the nation that has a separate juvenile docket. The three participating judges are especially knowledgeable and able to recognize legal and practical issues affecting unrepresented children. The juvenile docket judges saw the need to properly screen children in removal proceedings for SIJS eligibility. They were concerned that children who were unrepresented by counsel, or who were represented by members of the private bar, seemed unfamiliar with SIJS benefits and issues. Their concerns are confirmed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2010, March of 2011, which reports only 1,492 children gained permanent residency through SIJS in 2010. Despite the concern that SIJS
opens a floodgate for migrant children to gain benefits, the number of children reportedly gaining residency through SIJS is incredibly low as compared to the number of unaccompanied minor children in removal proceedings throughout the country. This is caused in large part by the fact that many children go undetected.
Los Angeles County has many programs designed to recognize and screen for SIJS eligibility. Its major metropolitan legal and social services communities have spearheaded SIJS reform. Because so many children are undocumented in Los Angeles, advocates have been innovative and responsive in detecting SIJS eligibility.The detection system includes the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Public Counsel, KIND, ICWC, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and Southwestern Law School, all of which are staffed with attorneys who have expertise in SIJS law. Still, their coordinated efforts leave children undetected because many either do not meet their criteria for service or fail to find their way into the system.
AILA's SoCal Chapter Pro Bono Network is committed to do its part in detecting children who are SIJS eligible. The Network conducts intakes on a weekly basis in the pro bono room at the immigration court and seeks to place unrepresented SIJS eligible children with pro bono counsel.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SIJS
AILA SoCal's recent SIJS training, titled "Children at an Immigration Crossroads," provided AILA attorneys with basic training and resources needed to understand SIJS and detect a child's eligibility for relief. Approximately 50 immigration and family law attorneys attended the training. Presenters included a panel of advocates from KIND, Public Counsel, ICWC, and an international adoptions expert. The training sought to inspire attorneys to undertake pro bono representation of children in removal proceedings. In addition the training provided a forum for attorneys to learn SIJS basics, gain access to training resources and materials, and network with key advocates and nonprofits in the field. The collaboration of Los Angeles-based immigration judges, nonprofit advocates, and the private bar signifies a small step toward improving SIJS detection and representation for children in removal proceedings.
Madhu N. Sharma is an attorney at Stone & Grzeg- orek LLP in Los Angeles, California and serves as a pro bono co-liaison for the SoCal chapter of AILA.