Article of Interest

How Young Lawyers Can Help with the Unaccompanied Child Immigrant Crisis
By: Bill Gardner and Aaron Capps

Unaccompanied child immigrants are arriving in the United States in record numbers, creating what many have called a humanitarian crisis. For decades, we have known about the dangerous conditions and life-threatening situations immigrants experience as they struggled to reach our country. Now there is a renewed sense of urgency to take appropriate action as young children have become the new wave of immigrants detained at the border.

Over 90,000 unaccompanied minors are expected to cross the U.S.-Mexico border this year. Roughly 85% of these unaccompanied minors will cross the border into Texas alone. Fleeing poverty, wars and political instability, these children leave parts of Latin America, including areas beyond Mexico, such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

After U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehend these children, they are transferred to shelters run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These unaccompanied children, separated from their family, are detained in remote facilities where they will eventually face removal proceedings in federal immigration courts (Mexican children are often deported more quickly due to agreements with Mexico). The children range in age from newborns to 17 year olds. Most do not speak English and have limited education. In addition, many have suffered from violence in their homes, communities, or during their journey to the United States.

Many of these children are eligible for protection under federal law. Those who can demonstrate that they fled to escape abuse, neglect, or abandonment may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Others can seek asylum or pursue legal status through family unification.  These children are not entitled to an attorney and due to their youth, language barriers, and the complexity of the federal immigration law system, these children face insurmountable obstacles to proving their claims for protection before an immigration judge or asylum officer on their own. They also typically lack financial means to obtain private representation.

Since 2006, TYLA has partnered with ProBAR, a legal services organization in the Rio Grande Valley, to train pro bono lawyers to represent these children in removal proceedings. In 2010, TYLA and ProBAR produced a Spanish-language video, Conoce Tus Derechos, to educate unaccompanied minors about the U.S. legal system and their legal rights. Conoce Tus Derechos may be viewed for free here.

Many other organizations serve unaccompanied minors by informing them of their legal rights, screening them for potential asylum or other legal claims, representing them in their immigration hearings, and coordinating attorneys to take pro bono cases. Each of these organizations requires funding and pro bono volunteers. Regardless of where you live, you can help by doing any of the following:

Donate to Texas Access to Justice Foundation. More than anything, these immigrant children need legal support. Fulltime lawyers who represent unaccompanied children can provide this support, but they need money.  TAJF provides money in the form of grants to nonprofit legal service providers in Texas which directly serve unaccompanied children.  Your donation would enable TAJF to continue providing these grants.

Visit the Texas Bar’s new webpage. Texas Bar designed the webpage to keep attorneys informed of volunteer opportunities statewide to help serve the legal needs of unaccompanied minors arriving in our court systems:

Present TYLA’s Slavery Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Human Trafficking to attorneys, medical professionals and the general public. Slavery Out of the Shadows builds awareness of human trafficking within our own borders. Slavery Out of the Shadows is available for free online at, or you can request a DVD by emailing the TYLA office at

Donate to your local legal-service provider.  Catholic Charities of Dallas, Catholic Charities of Houston/Galveston, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, RAICES (Central Texas), Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services (El Paso), and ProBAR (Rio Grande Valley) all need funding to continue serving unaccompanied immigrant minors. In addition, please click here for more information on other ways to donate.

Take a pro bono case. Attend a training session with one of the nonprofits mentioned above, or with an organization such as Kids in Need of Defense (KIND—Houston), and make a difference in one child’s life. A skilled attorney will supervise you throughout the process and provide the resources to navigate immigration court.  Spanish-speaking attorneys are especially needed.

Provide other pro bono work. If you cannot take a case yourself, offer to assist another pro bono attorney by performing legal research, drafting motions, or compiling evidence for an immigration hearing. 

Ask your firm to sponsor a justice AmeriCorps attorney. The Department of Justice has set aside funding for lawyers to serve unaccompanied immigrant children. Texas Access to Justice Foundation is seeking sponsors to match the DOJ’s funding for nine lawyers who will serve in Texas.

BILL GARDNER is the District 5, Place 4 Director for the TYLA. Bill represents design professionals and real estate developers in complex litigation and land use matters throughout Texas at Macdonald Devin.

AARON CAPPS is the District 5, Place 2 Director for the TYLA. In his free time, he works at Griffith Davison & Shurtleff, P.C. as a trial lawyer who focuses his practice on commercial construction and commercial real estate disputes.