By Rena Malai, News staff
Social workers can be instrumental in helping unaccompanied, undocumented minors find legal representation and other services once they cross the border into the United States.
Tens of thousands of minors have arrived at the U.S. border within the last few months, fleeing from extreme violence and turmoil in their countries. They are predominantly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The children are seeking refuge in the U.S. and many are trying to connect with family members already living here.
All of the minors who come in contact with U.S. immigration authorities are processed for deportation proceedings, says Elizabeth Camarena, associate director of legal programs at Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego.
According to a report in the Syracuse University Transactional Clearinghouse, about 40 percent of juveniles appear at immigration court without an attorney.
Camarena says social workers can help these children find pro bono legal services so they can have an attorney represent them in court. The children do have a legal right to attorney representation, although they have to provide it for themselves, she said.
“Immigration law is complex, and when a child is not represented by an attorney, it is extremely difficult for them to present evidence that they qualify for asylum,” she said. “Social workers have contacted me directly to make an appointment for a child, and they wait outside in the reception area. That is where I have seen that if it wasn’t for the social worker, the child wouldn’t be in my office or even know this kind of help is available.”
The process to appear in court starts with the child receiving a Notice to Appear before leaving their detention facility, where they go when they first enter the U.S., Camarena said.
From the October 2014 NASW News.