Unaccompanied minors regularly go through deportation proceedings without parental support, but given the results of the Zero Tolerance policy, more young children than ever, including toddlers, are being ordered to appear in court. Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, related her experience helping a young client, “We were representing a 3-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child — in the middle of the hearing — started climbing up on the table…It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.”
Leaders at three legal services organizations and a private firm confirmed that children are being served with notices to appear in court. They are not entitled to an attorney but rather are given a list of legal services organizations that might help them. Parents typically are tried along with young children and have explained the reasoning behind seeking asylum in the USA. “The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” Toczylowski said.
A federal judge Tuesday night commanded the White House to reunify families within 14 days if the child is under 5 and 30 days if the child is older. The Justice Department has not indicated whether it will appeal. Attorneys who are involved in the cases said it’s unclear how the judge’s order will work in practice and when and how it could take effect. In April, HHS entered into an agreement with law enforcement officials that requires sponsors and adult family members to submit fingerprints and be subject to a thorough immigration and criminal background check.