AG LetterWashington – Minors fleeing brutal violence must have legal representation in order to get a fair day in court. That was the message delivered to Attorney General Loretta Lynch today by a diverse coalition of 177 children’s rights, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, medical, labor, education, and immigrants’ rights organizations.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that a senior Department of Justice (DOJ) immigration official responsible for training other immigration judges made the unimaginable assertion that he had successfully taught three- and four-year-olds U.S. immigration law and that they could fairly represent themselves in court.

“If this is the way the Department of Justice does business, our legal system is clearly in trouble,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. “Worse yet, the youngest and most vulnerable children seeking refuge in the United States will continue being used as political pawns and deported to unspeakable danger and unfathomable consequences.”

In 2015, Central America’s Northern Triangle registered 17,422 homicides, a rate higher than four West African countries under siege by Boko Haram, and higher than the death tolls in Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan combined. El Salvador and Guatemala have the highest homicide rates in the world for children. For many of the children fleeing these countries, having an attorney to represent their claim for asylum is a matter of life and death.

“We know that for children fleeing violence, having a competent attorney can make a difference between life and death,” said Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Many children have suffered severe trauma, and have solid claims for asylum and humanitarian protection. Our government must ensure that all children in deportation hearings are provided counsel.”

As signatories to today’s letter to the Attorney General, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, the Children’s Defense Fund, Human Rights Watch, Kids In Need of Defense, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, MALDEF, NAACP, National Association of Evangelicals, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Council of La Raza, the National Education Association, the National Juvenile Justice Network, Sojourners, and World Relief, are urging the DOJ to make it mandatory for the government to provide counsel to all children facing deportation.

These signatories are joined by more than 100 members of Congress who support the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, legislation that would require counsel for unaccompanied children in all immigration hearings.

“The stakes could not be higher,” said Lesley. “If the United States truly is the land of justice – a humane nation where we protect the most vulnerable, it’s imperative that Attorney Lynch act to reflect those values. Children’s lives depend on it.”

Click here to read a full copy of the letter and its signatories.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit