Advocates worry about two distinct hurdles. First, the separation policy creates a larger number of unaccompanied minors in the United States — which means a bigger pool of children vying for limited attorney services from the pro bono firms that typically take their cases.
KIND, where Podkul works, is one of those organizations — and it’s already worried about how it will handle the uptick in minors who are facing deportation hearings on their own.
“We’re a bit in panic mode,” says Podkul. “There are very limited organizations that have this specialty and provide these services; less than half of children get representation, and now they’ve just added 600-plus kids.”
That could have real effects for children, as those who receive representation are significantly more likely to win in deportation hearings. One 2014 study
found that unaccompanied minors with representation have a 73 percent chance of winning their case, compared to just 15 percent for those without an attorney.
What’s more, Podkul says that children are less able to defend themselves against deportation hearings when they aren’t able to contact their parents.
The parents, for example, likely know better why they believe their children ought to be given asylum in the United States. They’re more likely to be carrying the paperwork to make that case too.
“These cases get a lot harder when these kids are separated from an adult,” says Podkul. “If a child has traveled with an adult, the parent often knows the full story of why they’re seeking asylum. They have documents like birth certificates or police reports. But once these kids are separated, they’ve lost communication. It makes our job a lot harder.”