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U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Counsel as Cook County Condemns ICE Raids on Families and Calls for Temporary Protected Status 
 
Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center
 
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds actions by U.S. senators and the Cook County Board of Commissioners to protect Central American refugee families.
 
Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Patty Murray (D-WA) today introduced the “Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016,” to expand access to counsel to children and others for whom counsel is necessary to help ensure fairness in their immigration proceedings. Yesterday, the Cook County (IL) Board of Commissioners passed resolution 16-1065, condemning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on Central American asylum seekers and their families and calling for President Obama to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 
 
Rampant violence in these countries is forcing families and children to run for their lives. Women and children are increasingly targeted for violence by criminal organizations and drug cartels. El Salvador recently overtook Honduras as the murder capital of the world, and El Salvador and Guatemala are rated first and third for highest murder rates of women.
 
National Call to Ensure Due Process
 
Many of these families and children may be eligible for protection in the United States, but under current law, immigrants—including children—do not have the right to court-appointed lawyers during immigration proceedings. In many cases, legal representation is the difference between deportation to harm and being able to safely stay in the United States. As NIJC provides legal services to thousands of asylum seekers and children every year, we have seen the devastating consequences when these vulnerable individuals cannot access counsel.  Non-detained immigrants with representation are almost six times more likely to win their cases compared to those without representation, yet in fiscal year 2014, 45 percent of people did not have legal representation. For children and other vulnerable populations, having a lawyer is even more critical. Among children with representation, 73 percent are allowed to remain in the United States whereas only 15 percent of unrepresented children are allowed to stay.
 
The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act ensures families and children have meaningful opportunities to pursue protection by requiring the U.S. Attorney General to appoint counsel for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals. The bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to facilitate access to counsel and provide legal orientation programs (LOPs) for all detained immigrants, and instructs DHS to create case management services for those who are not detained. The program also would require the Department of Justice to pilot a non-detained LOP in the immigration courts to educate those facing removal proceedings about the legal process.
 
Cook County Joins National Call for Humane Response
 
Cook County’s passage of resolution 16-1065 reaffirms the county’s long history of welcoming people fleeing persecution, and its commitment to building trust with immigrant communities who often worry that any encounter with law enforcement or ICE could lead to deportation for them or a loved one. Knowing that our local government will not tolerate these inhumane raids is critical to ensuring that people feel safe to seek legal counsel, attend their court hearings, and engage in the legal process to obtain protection. It also will help families feel more secure to come forward and apply for deferred action once the U.S. Supreme Court rules in June that the president’s immigration executive action programs may proceed. Further, with its resolution, Cook County joins a growing national chorus demanding TPS protection for individuals from these countries. The resolution was sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Luis Arroyo.
 
We thank Senators Reid, Durbin, Leahy, Menendez, and Murray, and the Cook County Board for their leadership to uphold America’s commitment to justice and human rights.