September 26, 2016

Hirono Calls for Guaranteed Access to Legal Counsel for Unaccompanied Child Immigrants in Visit to Baltimore “Kids Court”

Joins Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) to Learn Firsthand about Challenges Children Face in Seeking Asylum, Navigating Legal System

Senator Mazie K. Hirono continued her call to guarantee access to legal counsel for unaccompanied children who come to the United States fleeing violence in their home countries during a visit to immigration “Kids Court” in Baltimore today. These children, some as young as three, are forced to navigate through immigration proceedings without any mandated legal representation.

“It’s unacceptable that children who are fleeing violence in their home countries are left to navigate the American legal system without any support,” said Senator Hirono. “While organizations like Kids in Need of Defense fill a critical gap in providing representation for unaccompanied children, their resources can only go so far. We must mandate that children fleeing violence and seeking refuge in the United States receive the care and support they deserve.”

Following the proceedings, Senator Hirono met with volunteer attorneys from Kids in Need of Defense – an organization that provides legal and other support services to these children. During her visit to KIND’s Baltimore office, Senator Hirono also met with Jefri Yair Sagastume, who recently secured legal status after fleeing gang violence in Honduras in 2013 with legal support from KIND.

"KIND greatly appreciates Senator Hirono's leadership on behalf of unaccompanied children including their desperate need for attorneys to represent them in their deportation proceedings, where the stakes can be life or death," says KIND President Wendy Young. "The fact that Senator Hirono is going to the Baltimore immigration court, meeting with unaccompanied children in proceedings, and visiting KIND's Baltimore office clearly demonstrates her deep commitment to these children, to due process, and fundamental fairness."

In 2014, Senator Hirono led a Congressional delegation to the Texas border to call attention to thousands of unaccompanied children who make the dangerous crossing from their homes in Central America to the United States. Senator Hirono has led the fight to ensure that these children have access to legal and humanitarian protections.

Senator Hirono is an original cosponsor of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which would make counsel available for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable populations. As the only immigrant currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Senator Hirono has been the leading advocate for family unity in fixing our broken immigration system. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress, she was one of the authors of the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Jefri Yair Sagastume shared his harrowing story of fleeing violence in his home country, and seeking asylum in the United States

Left to right: University of Baltimore Law Professor John Bessler, Senator Hirono, and KIND attorneys listen to Jefri and other unaccompanied children share their stories