Sunday, October 23, 2022
Immigration Article of the Day: A Child-Centered Approach to Representing Children in Immigration Legal Systems by Laila Hlass & Lindsay Muir Harris
As the number of accompanied and unaccompanied child immigrants migrating has increased, U.S. based non-profit organizations have developed practices specializing in representing immigrant children. Alongside this growing area of practice, scholars have written about the need for children to access lawyers in immigration proceedings, as well as how to incorporate best interest principles into immigration proceedings. However, little has been written specifically about how lawyers for immigrant children can best adopt a child-centered approach in their representation.
Children have different abilities than adults, impacted by their developmental stage, trauma history, and other experiences they have had relating to their identity. This impacts how they tell their histories, which is a critical part of seeking status and protection in immigration legal systems. Child-centered approaches are strength-based practices which promote participation and protection of young people, and necessarily challenge discrimination children face. We argue that child-centered representation must integrate critical lawyering, which includes anti-racism and trauma-centered lawyering practices to address immigrant children’s particular needs, promoting their participation, protection and anti-discrimination. Critical lawyering involves using an intersectional lens to collaborate with clients, communities, and colleagues “with an eye toward interrogating privilege differentials in these relationships and accounting for existing historical and structural biases.” Trauma-centered lawyering recognizes and accounts for the role that trauma plays in the lawyer-client relationship. A child-centered approach in representation should be integrated into every stage of lawyering for immigrant children, including all stages of representation such as interviewing, counseling, developing case theory, preparing applications, appearing in court, and direct examination. Ultimately, a child-centered approach utilizes core tenets of critical lawyering to zealously advocate for and ensure that children’s wishes are understood and communicated to decision-makers. This means ensuring children truly understand their rights and that they are meaningfully participating in their legal cases at every stage, free from external factors that a child may view as coercive.