Unaccompanied immigrant children—defined under federal law as individuals under the age of 18 without lawful immigration status in the United States and for whom a parent or legal guardian is not available in the U.S. to provide care and custody[1]—are a growing and vulnerable population. Unaccompanied children (UC), the majority of whom are 15 to 17 years of age, are often fleeing dangerous or abusive situations in their home countries, such as gang violence, domestic abuse, and other forms of persecution, conflict or exploitation. Many are eligible for forms of immigration relief to remain in the United States.[2]  For several years preceding 2011, the number of unaccompanied children taken into federal custody averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 annually. By fiscal year 2014, the number of UC entering Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody rose to 57,496.[3] 

Legal representation is widely recognized to be essential for improving efficiency and effectiveness in immigration court and for improving outcomes, particularly for vulnerable respondents such as unaccompanied children. To ensure that immigration courts function efficiently and that the children obtain the legal outcomes to which they are entitled, legal representation is necessary. However, the need for legal representation in immigration proceedings has perennially outstripped available resources.

To provide greater legal access for these vulnerable children, the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) entered into a partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Under delegated authority from the Attorney General, EOIR interprets and administers federal immigration laws by conducting immigration court proceedings, appellate reviews, and administrative hearings. EOIR is committed to providing fair, expeditious, and uniform application of the nation’s immigration laws while ensuring the standards of due process and fair treatment for all parties involved. CNCS’s mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic participation through service and volunteering.

Vera’s evaluation of this vital program will help ensure equal justice for vulnerable immigrant children, and by improving the chances that the children can achieve legal status, will strengthen diverse families and communities.

[1] See 6 U.S.C. 279(g)(2).

[2] Byrne, O. and Miller, E. (2012). See also p. 52 of this report, suggesting the proportion of relief eligible children is increasing.

[3] See ORR Fact Sheet, August 2015, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/...