Skip to content

VIDEO: Hirono Reintroduces Legislation to Guarantee Legal Representation for Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Proceedings

Sen. Hirono: “Nearly half of all unaccompanied children go into immigration court without a lawyer. For every child who is lucky enough to be represented by an attorney, another is left to fend for themselves.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reintroduced legislation to provide unaccompanied children with access to legal representation when they appear in proceedings before an immigration judge. Senator Hirono announced the reintroduction of the bill, The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the status of U.S. immigration courts.

“Nearly half of all unaccompanied children go into immigration court without a lawyer. For every child who is lucky enough to be represented by an attorney, another is left to fend for themselves,” said Senator Hirono during the hearing. “Children cannot represent themselves in Court—it’s that simple. And that’s why I have reintroduced the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which would provide unaccompanied children with legal representation when they go through the process—earlier in the process.”

Nearly half of all unaccompanied children represent themselves during legal proceedings and it is extremely difficult for children to successfully navigate the U.S. immigration system without an attorney—unrepresented children appear alone in immigration court to face a judge and an adversarial government attorney seeking their removal from the United States. Many of these children, some as young as 3-years old, are unable to speak English and unable to understand our complicated legal system. Immigration judges are nearly 100 times less likely to grant relief to unaccompanied children without counsel compared to those with counsel.

Specifically, the The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act:

  • Requires that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide counsel to noncitizen unaccompanied children appearing before the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or a state court, unless the child has obtained counsel at their own expense;
  • Extends the government’s duty to ensure counsel for unaccompanied children to the end of the immigration proceedings, even if the child turns 18 during proceedings;
  • Ensures that children are informed of their right to representation within 72 hours and creates infrastructure to identify, recruit, and train pro bono lawyers to provide representation;
  • Allows unaccompanied children to reopen their case if HHS fails to provide counsel;
  • Requires the government and stakeholders to create guidelines and duties for counsel representing unaccompanied children, largely based on American Bar Association recommendations;
  • Clarifies that the government may, at its choosing, also provide counsel to other individuals in immigration court;
  • Requires noncitizens, and their attorneys, to receive a complete copy of the noncitizen’s immigration file at least 10 days before the removal proceedings;
  • Guarantees access to counsel for all noncitizens detained in DHS facilities; and
  • Requires a report on children’s access to counsel.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).  

The bill is also supported by Kids in Need of Defense, American Academy of Pediatrics, Save the Children, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, Women’s Refugee Commission,  Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Ayuda, Immigrant Children Advocates’ Relief Effort (ICARE), Center for Law and Social Policy, Human Rights First, The Advocates for Human Rights, Immigration Hub, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Oxfam America, National Association of Social Workers, The Border Network for Human Rights, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington DC, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul USA, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA), Sojourners, Church World Service, Bridges Faith Initiative, Acacia Center for Justice, ImmSchools, Value our Families, Social Workers for Immigration Justice and Human Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Freedom Network USA, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Americans for Immigrant Justice, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, Advocating Opportunity, Safe Passage Project, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), National Education Association, Justice At Last, Central American Resource Center- CARECEN- of California, , Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, New Jersey Consortium for Immigrant Children, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Tahirih Justice Center, American Federation of Teachers, Vera Institute of Justice, Immigrant Legal Defense, and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice.

A link to download video of Senator Hirono’s full remarks is available here. The bill text is available here and a one pager is available here.

Senator Hirono has consistently advocated to address the inadequacies of the current immigration laws and framework, as well as the conditions at the southern border. Earlier this year, she joined her colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden raising concerns over reports that his Administration is considering a return to the ineffective and inhumane practice of detaining migrant families, after previously putting an end to family detention in December 2021. In 2019, she led a hearing to investigate the deteriorating conditions at the United States’ southern border, as well as reports of abuse and cruelty in border detention facilities. Senator Hirono has also introduced several bills to address the needs of children in DHS custody, including legislation to expand protections for vulnerable migrant children while they are in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. She also cosponsored legislation introduced in 2019 to end the Trump administration’s treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border and reform how children fleeing persecution are treated when they arrive at the border to claim asylum.