On September 23, 2013, Young Center director, Maria Woltjen, testified before the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the topic of Civil Rights Implications of Comprehensive Immigration Reform on Illinois’ Immigrant Communities. An outline of Woltjen’s testimony follows:
For children, SB 744 does include some good new protections. But much is missing. First I’ll talk about the good provisions:
- Appointment of counsel for children and adults with mental illness. Right now, there is a right to have an attorney, but not at government expense. Children (and adults) are required to find their own attorneys. It is very, very difficult for children to find an attorney. What this means is that across the country, including Chicago, non-detained children are appearing before immigration judges without an attorney. SB 744 provides for the appointment of attorneys for unaccompanied children and adults with mental illness. In Gault, the Supreme Court recognized that even though juvenile justice proceedings are civil, not criminal, children in those proceedings have a due process right to counsel at gov’t expense because they face detention (it doesn’t matter that this detention is characterized as “civil” v. “criminal”). Despite that recognition for kids in the JJ system, there has not been a similar extension of the right to counsel for youth in ORR custody. For this group of children in particular, the consequences can be devastating.
- DHS to establish standards for humane conditions for children in CBP custody (including medical/mental healthcare, nutrition, climate-appropriate clothing, footwear, bedding, personal hygiene).
- Protection of Family Values in Apprehension. (family separation due to immigration enforcement): when considering whether to detain and/or deport a parent, the humanitarian needs of parents with are taken into consideration;
- Training for CBP on policies intended to protect family unity (need policies, first—now have parental interests directive.)
- Limitation on dangerous deportation practices: removal on southern border limited to daylight (specifically for UACs).
- Development of safe repatriation best practices and sustainable programs in U.S. and countries of origin for UAC.
- DREAM Act
What’s missing in SB 744
- There is no statutory best interests standard in the Senate bill. We need a best interests provision requiring decision makers to consider the child’s best interests – safety and well-being – whether there is a parent or adult willing and able to care for the child if she is repatriated, and determining whether there are any safety issues, and whether the child will be provided with shelter, food and education necessary to develop.
- The Senate bill does not include a statutory requirement to establish special courts for children, and asylum dockets for children.
Maria Woltjen, Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s rights