On CNN, a lawyer explains what it's like to represent a toddler in a deportation hearing

Lindsay Toczylowski: Three-year-olds “are expected to present a claim that gives them a cognizable right to asylum ... without their parents there, that's very difficult”

From the June 29 edition of CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow

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POPPY HARLOW (HOST): Tell me what it was like in the courtroom with a three-year-old. 

LINDSAY TOCZYLOWSKI (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IMMIGRANT DEFENDERS LAW CENTER): Sure, so, when we have very small children like this coming into court, it's really difficult because these kids are coming into a place that's really just not set up for them. There's no minimum age for children to appear in immigration court, so even infants can be given a notice to appear and brought in front of a judge. In the past, that would be done with their parents, but what we saw in this case, and what we anticipate will keep happening because of the repercussions of the zero tolerance policy, is that more children will be given this notice to appear to come into court, and when they do, these courts are just ill-equipped to deal with them. 

HARLOW: A, why are the courts ill-equipped, and B, it's important to note the fact that this three-year-old toddler had your representation makes them one of the lucky ones. Undocumented immigrants are not guaranteed the right that all Americans are afforded, which is a right to legal representation in court. 

TOCZYLOWSKI: Exactly, and so what we have seen in courts when we're there with our own clients are very young children appearing on their own. Some so little, that -- in court there is no booster seats, there's no teddy bears, it's a cold immigration court, and so these kids are sitting in chairs that are too big for them, their feet don't even touch the floor, just little things that I think parents would really understand. They can't bring snacks into the courtroom. You're sometimes sitting there for two hours during a docket and you have very small children who can't even have a snack during that time. The courts are often -- the dockets are when these kids would normally be napping. 

HARLOW: But does -- let me ask you this, does the court look differently at all, Lindsay, on the asylum claims of these children, of these toddlers, of these teenagers, some of them going through this without representation? Or are they held to the same exact standard as the adults seeking asylum?

TOCZYLOWSKI: So children do have some -- there are some changes made for children in terms of what they need to present in their cases. But they still are expected to present a claim that gives them a cognizable right to asylum. And so, without their parents there, that's very difficult. Often times these children don't understand the reasons that they fled their country, they don't understand the intricacies of the political situation that they fled. And that's information their parents have, and when they have been ripped apart from their parents, it makes it exceedingly difficult for us as attorneys to be able to build a case for them, to be able to get them asylum. And so that's why our office is working hard to reunify families so that we can actually represent the family unit.


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