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Why Are Toddlers Going to Court Unrepresented?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 03, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Children are arrested all the time, many going to court with appointed lawyers for all those crimes that kids commit.

Immigrant children -- those separated from their parents in recent "zero tolerance" crackdowns -- don't get appointed counsel. More than 2,000 kids -- even toddlers as young as three years old -- are going to court alone.

Because they've done nothing criminal, they have no constitutional right to an attorney. Nobody really knows where they will be next, but everybody knows it's wrong.

What's Happening?

The drama is real, playing out in courtrooms from Washington, DC, to California. A federal judge was so fed up with it he ordered the White House to reunify the families.

President Trump issued a mixed message to end the separations, but even attorneys involved in the cases don't know what's happening.

"We don't know how the judge's order is going to play out with reunification of children," said Cynthia Milian, a Texas attorney. "What if parents have already been deported?"

Generally, kids without parents go to dependency court. Next stop, foster care.

'I'm Ashamed'

Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, said the situation is "absurd."

Children caught in the system typically don't even know why they are there. Parents often shield them from the facts, and that puts the kids "in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves."

Dr. Bernard Dreyer, director of behavioral pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, said the children's predicament is "unconscionable."

"I'm ashamed that we're doing this," he told the Texas Tribune. Despite the confusion, one thing is clear: there's plenty of work for attorneys at the border, and there are plenty of ways to help even if you aren't an immigration attorney.

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