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Heinrich Cosponsors Bill To Protect Refugee Children Seeking Asylum

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is cosponsoring S. 2540, the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, which would require unaccompanied refugee children and vulnerable individuals to be provided with legal assistance during immigration court proceedings. The legislation would provide appointment of counsel, ensure the availability of legal orientation programs, and create a case management pilot project to increase appearance rates in immigration court.

"We have to ensure that children with valid claims for asylum get the legal assistance and advice they need to explain their cases in court. Anything less is unacceptable," said Sen. Heinrich. "These children have faced incredible danger to escape crisis in their countries of origin and deserve meaningful due process and access to counsel. It's unfair for these refugees, who often don't speak English and have gone through severe trauma, to navigate the immigration process by themselves. They should have a fair opportunity to seek relief, and that's what this bill does."

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 would ensure due process for children and vulnerable individuals by:

  • Requiring the government to appoint counsel to unaccompanied children, and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities and victims of abuse, torture, or violence.
  • Requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants.
  • Creating a case management pilot project to increase court appearance rates.
  • Requiring DHS to submit reports to Congress on the number of individuals identified in the Act who were represented by counsel and the number of individuals who received legal orientation presentations.

In February, Senator Heinrich and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) wrote a letter to the president urging the administration to temporarily suspend immigration removal actions against children and families from the Northern Triangle region of Central America--El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras-who are being improperly rushed through the immigration court process. Many of those individuals are children who have arrived since 2014, fleeing life-threatening gang violence and attempting to reach parents or relatives who are already living in this country.