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This One Graph Explains What Happens When You Give a Child Migrant a Lawyer—And When You Don't

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

If an undocumented child can find or afford a lawyer to guide him through the immigration legal system, then that child is very lucky. His odds of staying in the U.S are much higher than those of the 48 percent of children who don't have legal representation. New data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse compiled from 2005-2014 shows that children who don't have attorneys were allowed to stay just 10 percent of the time, compared to 47 percent of the time for children who have an attorney. (Legal representation is not guaranteed for undocumented immigrants; generally, it depends on the resources of the individual or their families.) 

Migrants and lawyers 

Data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University

These are averages from 2005-2014; even fewer of the children with current pending cases have representation—at 31 percent. 

The disparity is partially explained by the obvious ways a lawyer can make a difference—expertise in immigration law where children have none—but also by a less obvious one. Children with lawyers also have someone to help them fill out paperwork and explain court procedures. According to some unofficial stats, 30 percent of the time that children are given a removal order, it is because they failed to appear on their court date.  

The American Civil Liberties Union, Kids in Need of Defense, and a few other immigration groups are now suing the government, arguing that undocumented children have a right to representation. There is currently a backlog of 367,000 cases in the immigration courts. More legal representation could help things go smoother for everyone.