February 11, 2016 - Issue: Vol. 162, No. 25 — Daily Edition114th Congress (2015 - 2016) - 2nd Session
FAIR DAY IN COURT FOR KIDS ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 162, No. 25
(Senate - February 11, 2016)
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[Pages S835-S836] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] FAIR DAY IN COURT FOR KIDS ACT Mr. REID. Mr. President, for the last 2 years our great country has faced a humanitarian crisis arising from Central America. Thousands and thousands of migrants, mainly women and children, have fled to our border and to other countries in the region to escape the growing violence in the region. Most of these women and children come from the so-called Northern Triangle countries--El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras--where crime and lawlessness have overrun the people. And that is an understatement. El Salvador is the murder capital of the world. There isn't a close second. There are more murders per capita than in any nation on the planet. El Salvador's murder rate is 26 times higher than the United States. Among El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, El Salvador beats them all for a murder rate, but the other two countries, Honduras and Guatemala, are third and seventh. In these countries, the rates for female homicide are unbelievably high. Again, El Salvador ranks No. 1 for female homicides. As I have indicated, we have Honduras, which is third, and Guatemala is seventh. That is why you see these women and children fleeing--fleeing for their lives. It is not just murder that these desperate people are trying to escape. People in these countries are imperiled by high rates of human trafficking, drug trafficking, sexual assaults, and widespread corruption. It is an understatement to say that these places aren't safe to live. These refugees in our hemisphere are seeking protection. They are escaping to neighborhood countries, desperate to find someplace to go to hide, someplace to find sanctuary. Many make the trek through Mexico to our southern border, and it is a long ways. What they do to get to our border is really quite unbelievable. What do they do when they get to our border? They don't sneak in; they don't try to find a boat to go across the Rio Grande. These little kids throw up their arms and say in the best way they can: I am here; do something to help me. That is how desperate they feel--desperate to feel safe, to feel some protection. They are refugees in every sense of the word. In January the State Department announced that it would start a refugee program in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala after ``concluding that the epidemic of violence by international criminal gangs in the three countries had reached crisis proportions and required a broader, regional response.'' I applaud Secretary Kerry and his team for making this humane and principled decision. It is a good first step, and it will help people apply for refugee status at home so they don't have to make a trip through Mexico and other extremely dangerous places. But for those who have already reached our border seeking asylum, we must ensure that they are treated fairly, with respect. These refugees should have help in making their asylum request. That means they should have some legal representation. Under current U.S. law, there is no right to appointed counsel in noncriminal immigration removal proceedings, even if the person in question is a baby, a child. Think about that. These children who don't speak English and are in a new country are unreasonably expected to represent themselves in a tribunal. Approximately 70 percent of women and children and 50 percent of unaccompanied children who enter the United States don't have a lawyer when standing before a judge in deportation proceedings. It sounds hard to be true, but it is. There is an organization called Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND. It is a wonderful organization. I admire it. It is incredible. This nonprofit organization is trying to help these children. Their executive director watched as a 5-year-old girl was brought before an immigration judge. The little girl was clutching a doll. She was so short she could barely see over the table to the microphone. She sat there before a robed immigration judge, with a trial attorney from the Department of Homeland Security on the other side of the chamber, in effect, saying: Send her back. She was unable to answer any questions that the judge asked her except for the name of her doll: ``Baby Baby Doll.'' That was the name of her doll. But this is the worst part. This small child was expected to make a case of why she should be granted asylum under U.S. immigration laws. KIND matched her with an attorney from a major law firm who successfully helped her win her case. KIND is doing a wonderful job, but they are so shorthanded. Immigration law is a complex area of law, and it should not be a place where toddlers are placed in this situation. Children without attorneys are much more vulnerable than adults. So 9 out of 10 children without attorneys are ordered deported. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a majority of recently arrived unaccompanied children are eligible for legal protection that would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States, but they can't access these protections because they don't have anyone to tell them what the protections are. They can't access these protections without an attorney to represent them in court or even to ensure they receive proper notice of their hearings. Children with attorneys are five times more likely to be granted protection. Picture this little girl. This little girl represents thousands of children who have been abused in many different ways. They have seen their parents murdered, humiliated, and hurt. Her name is Angela. This little kid is 9 years old--a sweet little thing, 9 years old. She arrived at our southern border fleeing from the murder capital of the world, El Salvador. She is one of the fortunate kids. Kids in Need of Defense, the nonprofit group I mentioned, provided her with legal representation. She was granted legal immigration status. So look at this picture. I have looked at it many, many times. I took this home with me last night. Think of all the children, kids her age and younger--she is 9 years old--all who don't have representation. Think of a child like this standing alone in a court of law with a language barrier on top of it. This isn't how we should treat refugees. It is certainly not how we should treat children fleeing violence. Today I am introducing the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act. That is the name of my legislation. My legislation would mandate that the government appoint a counsel, a lawyer, to help these kids, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable individuals such as those who are victims of abuse, torture, and violence. My legislation would also require the Department of Homeland Security to make legal orientation programs available to all detention centers so people know their rights and responsibilities. Deportation means death to some of these people, and I am not being overly dramatic. A study documents 83 people who had been deported from this Northern Triangle who were subsequently murdered--83. Given the life- [[Page S836]] and-death consequences of deportation in this region, we must ensure that we are not putting asylum-seeking women and children in harm's way. We can do this by making sure that these desperate women and children have a lawyer. The humanitarian crisis at our doorstep demands that we, as Americans, affirm our fundamental values of protection and due process, especially for children. The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act will uphold these most basic American virtues and values which we hold dear. Protecting children--children like Angela--isn't a partisan issue. This is something I hope we can all agree on. So I urge my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to support this legislation. I yield the floor. ____________________