Children who cross the border without a parent or guardian are far more likely to appear in court and be allowed to stay legally in the U.S. if they have an attorney, but about half have no legal representation, according to a newly released study of immigration court records.
The country's 59 immigration courts were already facing a massive backlog when they became overwhelmed in recent weeks by an influx of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant youth, many from Central America.
Unlike counterparts from Mexico, the youth are entitled by law to court hearings before they can be deported.
But the young migrants are not entitled to attorneys. As immigration courts attempted to expedite hearings this week, advocates are crying foul, arguing that immigrant youths and their families need more time to find lawyers and learn their rights. The Obama administration has said it is taking steps to provide more attorneys for young migrants, but immigration activists have said those efforts are unlikely to meet the demand.
Children were not represented about half the time they appeared in immigration court from 2005 through the end of June, according to the study released last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Less than a third (31%) of children with pending cases had attorneys, according to the study.
Those with attorneys were far more likely to appear for court hearings, the study found — 92.5% compared with 27.5% of those without attorneys.
The youths also were more likely to receive asylum or some other form of legal status, according to the study. Of those with attorneys, 47% were allowed to stay legally, compared with 10% of those without attorneys.