A Migrant Child’s Journey with the Immigration Court System

Amanda Maya, KIND’s Senior Attorney in the Legal Department in San Francisco, shared her client’s journey with the immigration court system with us. 

After years of legal preparation, her client’s story ended positively. For many unaccompanied children, this is not the case. According to the Congressional Research Service, immigration judges are 100 times more likely to grant relief to unaccompanied children with legal representation than those without it.  

Can you imagine a child facing immigration court alone? Without the help of legal services, this is exactly what can happen. We asked Maya to tell us more about what the court experience is like for children and youth like her client.

“Immigration courts provide interpretation at hearings,” Maya tells us. “My client is a Spanish speaker so there was adequate interpretation on the day of her final hearing. However, I have served as a volunteer attorney at initial hearings where clients who speak an Indigenous language are rescheduled to another hearing date because an interpreter is not available on that day. Many of these immigrants travel four to five hours to attend these scheduled hearings so rescheduling because of insufficient interpretation is difficult and makes the process even more alienating.” 

Maya tells us the story she shared with us is rare: “My client was one of the relatively few unaccompanied children lucky enough to have an attorney. Many children in immigration proceedings do not have attorneys, regardless of their age.” 

“KIND’s clients range in age from toddlers to teenagers,” she shares. “Our youngest client was 6 months old. Without an attorney, these children would have to make their case before an immigration judge and counter a government attorney arguing for their deportation – without assistance. It is nearly impossible for children to navigate the complex U.S. immigration system and present their case without a lawyer. Children who do not have lawyers can receive a deportation order and be returned to the very conditions they fled.”  

In the case Maya shared with us, her client would have had to understand complicated U.S. immigration law and build a detailed case with the required evidence to access the protection for which she was ultimately found eligible. She would have had to do this while still recovering from the harm she suffered. 

“Because I have practiced for several years,” Maya says, “I know typically what evidence is sufficient to meet the asylum standard and how to handle questioning by the government lawyer. The same cannot be said for a child.”

Maya reminds us that most people don’t know that thousands of unaccompanied children face immigration proceedings without an attorney every year. “They are shocked when we explain how even small children appear in court and face an immigration judge without an attorney, while the government always has one,” she says. “The stakes are enormously high for these children – the proceedings will determine the course of their lives. It can even save their lives.” 

Many of the children who end up facing immigration court “have come to the United States out of desperation – they fear for their lives due to gang violence, human trafficking, or other harm that no child should suffer,” Maya says. “Without an attorney, these children cannot make their case and can be returned to harm. Court can be scary even for adults – imagine being a newcomer child who may have suffered grave harm, in a country you don’t know, in a system you don’t understand, not yet knowing the language, and having to tell strangers about what you suffered and in a way that follows complex rules, standards, and procedures? I can say for myself that there is no way I would have been able to do this.”



San Francisco KIND attorney, Amanda Maya Daneshzadeh

Amanda Maya is KIND’s Senior Attorney in the Legal Department in San Francisco and she is dedicated to advocating and amplifying the voices of immigrants. Before KIND, Amanda was a Removal Defense Attorney at the Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay (JFCS East Bay) non-profit organization and worked in partnership with Stand Together Contra Costa. During her tenure at JFCS East Bay, she provided trauma-informed legal representation to families in removal proceedings and those appearing before the San Francisco Asylum Office. In addition, Amanda was a litigation associate at Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe LLP where she worked on several civil rights matters to redress social issues in her community, including representing claimants in a Federal Tort Claims Act case that challenged President Trump’s family separation policy. Amanda graduated with Honors from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations. She then enrolled and graduated from Berkeley Law where she received the Berkeley Law Public Interest and Social Justice Certificate along with Pro Bono Honors. While in law school, she was the Co-Chairperson of the Board of Advocates and on the board of La Raza Law Student Association.