The English-only application spans at least nine pages, the first hurdle for an unaccompanied child seeking asylum in the United States.
Then there's an interview. A child is asked to recount to an asylum officer details of past traumas — such as gang recruitment and kidnappings, prostitution, and abuse. If asylum is denied, the young migrant goes before an immigration judge as a federal attorney typically argues for deportation.
This process is one that the majority of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border this year are expected to maneuver solo. Navigating the world of immigration law is complex even for a law student, who would typically take a semester's time to become conversant in its nuances. For a child, it's nearly impossible, according to immigration attorney Kristen Jackson.
"If you have an unrepresented child," she said, "their actual ability to do any of this as a pro se from my perspective is zero."
In early 2011, about half of children undergoing deportation proceedings were doing so without counsel, according to an estimate by Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit organization partnering with more than 200 law schools, firms, and more to find children legal representation. That was just before the wave of unaccompanied minors from Central America's Northern Triangle began. And the capacity to provide pro bono representation hasn't caught up, leaving the majority of children lawyerless, according to KIND President Wendy Young.
On the first of every month, KIND opens an online referral process to help minors receive counsel. Within 30 minutes on July 1, the maximum number had been signed up in two of KIND's eight offices. By 3 p.m. that day, six offices had reached their cap.