Undocumented children have fled from their homes in Central America in droves over the past several months to seek safety in the United States. The crush of new arrivals has inundated immigration courts and led to massive delays for children already here without a legal guardian and awaiting their day in court. For any child seeking asylum in the United States, having legal representation can mean all the difference between being granted permission to stay or being deported.

This is a hard reality that was true even before the recent wave of Central American children began crossing the Southwest border.In an effort to relieve some of the bottleneck, the U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of legal aid providers have announced an effort to provide lawyers for these unaccompanied minors. The department has set aside $1.8 million for a new initiative called the AmeriCorps program. The program will send an estimated 100 attorneys and paralegals out to represent the children in immigration proceedings. Equal Justice Works executive director, David Stern, said there is a huge issue with children not being able address their claims when their hearings come up saying, “having the opportunity to be able to present their claims is so important, and representation is critical.”A study of undocumented children in immigration proceedings performed by Syracuse University found that only 52% had legal representation during the past decade. The study also found that having legal representation made a substantial difference in outcomes. 47% of children with legal representation were allowed to stay in the country whereas only 10% of children without a lawyer were allowed to remain in the U.S. Deportation hearings can mean life or death for children fleeing countries where they risk gang threats and violence.While the AmeriCorps program will not solve the issue, proponents are certain that it will help and potentially save lives. Jeanne Atkinson of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network said, “This issue is huge. One hundred AmeriCorps Justice fellows will not solve the problem, but it will make a dent along with other things such as pro bono representation and reduced-rate representation.”