Although the number of new arrivals of Central American refugee children coming to Long Island has declined in recent weeks, there are over 2,000 already here. Many of them have already received court dates for proceedings to remove them from this country.
These vulnerable children need legal help now. At CARECEN, we counseled 130 of these children in July and August alone. Counseling, however, is not enough. Explaining the legal process to a 14-year-old is not going to count for much in court if the child is unrepresented. Representation by an attorney is the ideal, but it is beyond the ability of the non-profit legal services groups to provide to all the children who need it.
We has been fortunate to have been able to bring on a new staff member, Marino Morales, who will be working part-time to establish a pro bono representation project to help these children fleeing violence. The project is in its first week of existence, but because of the legal emergency created by the speedy docketing of the children’s cases for deportation hearings, we have decided to begin recruiting volunteers now.
We need volunteer translators to help attorneys work with their young clients and volunteer attorneys as well. Although we are particularly happy to have lawyers with family court or immigration law experience we will also welcome any lawyer admitted to practice in any state.
While some cases will involve asylum applications to the immigration courts, many will have their principal legal work carried out in family court. We are looking at having some lawyers cover the family court aspect and others the immigration court. CARECEN will provide training and other assistance to volunteer lawyers.
Catholic Charities of Long Island is also recruiting and training volunteer attorneys to work with the children. On Tuesday I gave a lecture on political asylum for children fleeing gangs to fifteen of their volunteers. Theo Liebman, a clinical law professor at Hofstra, is organizing private immigration lawyers to provide free or low-fee legal representation and Tom Maligno at Touro Law School is exploring ways that his students can help with representation of the children.
In spite of the fast-mobilizing efforts of these groups, the number of children needing legal help is so large that we need all the help we can get.
To volunteer for CARECEN’s new pro bono representation program, please contact Marino Morales at 516-489-8330. Anyone interested in helping out at Catholic Charities should call Carmen Maquilon at 631-789-5210.