Every year, about 8,000 unaccompanied children enter the United States and are placed in removal proceedings. Many of those children are helped by KIND–Kids in Need of Defense, a non-profit organization begun in January 2009 with a $3 million grant from Microsoft (and help from refugee maven Angelina Jolie). Pleased with the success of the organization, which has offices in eight cities, Microsoft last month committed to another $3 million over the next three years.
According to a press release:
Since KIND became operational in January 2009, almost 1,900 children have been referred to KIND for help finding a pro bono attorney; the children range in age from two to 18 years old, and come from more than 35 countries. KIND’s model is an innovative public-private partnership in which lawyers from firms, corporations, or private practice volunteer to represent children in immigration proceedings.
According to KIND Executive Director Wendy Young:
Many of these children are escaping severe abuse or persecution; others have been abandoned or have been trafficked to the United States. Some are hoping to reunite with their parents. They need and deserve representation to help them make their claim for U.S. protection. Without representation, children with viable claims are often unable to make them and can be sent back to their home countries, where their well-being, or even their lives, may be in danger.
There is an argument to be made that granting benefits to children who cross the border illegally creates an incentive for others to follow them and make the risky journey to the United States. And it is a dangerous trip–a group that tracks border deaths, No More Deaths, reports that over 250 people have died along the Arizona border during the last year. Hundreds more have died trying to enter through New Mexico, Texas, and California, or at other locations on the refugee route from Central America. I knew a prominent DHS attorney who routinely (and passionately) opposed relief for children who crossed the border illegally because he did not want to create incentives for other children.
While I agree that we don’t want to create incentives for children to risk their lives by crossing illegally into the United States, I doubt that assisting children with their cases does much to create such an incentive. For one thing, many of the children are leaving pretty awful circumstances–if they were safe and happy, they would stay home. In this context, the border crossing may be one of the least dangerous things they have to do to survive. Also, given the large flow of people across the border (in both directions), it seems unlikely that allowing those with meritorious cases to remain here would do much to incentivize people outside the U.S. Finally, young people are less likely to know about or be influenced by government policies. Even if we were deported all children who enter the U.S. without inspection, I think it would do little to dissuade others who are fleeing abuse or persecution in their homelands.
If children with legitimate claims are denied–perhaps because they are unrepresented and cannot present their cases effectively–it would mean returning them to dangerous circumstances in their home countries. Unaccompanied children who have fled to the U.S. seeking safety need help from KIND and other similar organizations. Without KIND’s help, many of those with legitimate claims would be sent back to their countries, where they would face abuse or worse.
With the most recent grant from Microsoft, it seems KIND will continue its life-saving work for some time to come.