How Attorneys Can Help Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

Voice of Experience · February 2017 ·by Llewelyn Pritchard

In the early 1990s, Sandy D’Alemberte, then the President of the ABA, called and asked me to chair a special committee to be called the ABA Pro Bono Development Committee on Immigration. Sandy had procured a multimillion dollar grant from the Ford Foundation to encourage lawyers who were not involved in the practice of immigration law to take on pro bono cases in that field. Despite an initial reluctance on my part to undertake the assignment, his charm and perseverance persuaded me. It changed my life! Learning about the plight of immigrants, refugees and newcomers in our country was an eye-opening experience. As a result of the Association’s efforts over the next decade, mainline lawyers who had never been involved in the practice of immigration law began to get firsthand experience and to observe this arena. Through the assistance of Ford funding and further dollars from the Open Society Institute, state and local bar associations began to develop pro bono representation programs throughout our nation. Our challenge then continues today. We need your help!

I am honored to be a current member of the ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants, the latest challenge facing the bar. Comprised of Association members from a variety of entities — including the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, the Commission on Immigration, and the Center on Children and the Law — this Working Group was formed by past ABA President William Hubbard in the summer of 2014 in response to the unprecedented arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

These children are fleeing unspeakable violence, risking their lives in their journey to find safety and protection in the United States. Upon arrival, they are placed in removal/deportation proceedings in the federal immigration court system. They are not entitled to or given court-appointed counsel, even though many of them have legitimate claims for relief that would allow them to permanently reside in the U.S. without fear of returning to the conditions causing them to flee.

Our ABA Working Group advocates for legal representation of unaccompanied immigrant children not only in federal immigration courts nationwide but also in state family, juvenile and probate court proceedings for orders finding abuse, abandonment or neglect to qualify for special immigrant juvenile status, leading to lawful permanent residence in the U.S. The Working Group also works with immigration legal services providers and bar associations to recruit, train and place cases with pro bono attorneys.

To increase pro bono capacity of immigration legal services programs, the Working Group created the Immigrant Child Advocacy Network (ICAN),, a portal where pro bono attorneys and programs can access training materials, articles and other resources on the representation of unaccompanied minor immigrants. Attorneys can volunteer for a pro bono case by signing up at the ICAN site to be matched with a local program seeking pro bono attorneys. The Working Group also coordinates recruitment drives with immigration legal services providers like Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and mentoring efforts with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Please join me in ensuring that immigrant children do not appear in court without legal representation. In 2015, 91 percent of completed cases for children without representation resulted in removal, whereas 84 percent of children with attorneys were allowed to remain in the United States.

For more information about how you can help, contact the Working Group’s staff person, Juliet Gilbert at or simply sign up at the ICAN site. By doing so, you will be taking the first step in making a difference in the life of an immigrant child.

We need your help! We promise you representation of these children will be a life-changing experience not only for the immigrant child but also for you.