On December 21, 2023, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) issued a memorandum, effective immediately, providing important guidance for cases in immigration courts where the lead or sole respondent is a child (defined as under the age of 21) or where a witness is a child.
Through this memorandum, EOIR announced that it was creating specialized juvenile dockets in each immigration court that had a caseload of children’s cases. Hearings will be held on specific days of the week and will be separate from hearings for adults. Specific immigration judges will be assigned to these juvenile dockets.
The memo emphasized several guidelines applicable to all children’s cases. Some of these include:
Recognizing the vulnerability of child respondents, the memo also instructs on child-friendly courtroom procedures. It outlines specific measures that can be taken to ensure children feel as comfortable as possible, such as explaining proceedings in child-appropriate language, permitting immigration judges to not wear their judicial robes, and making other courtroom modifications to accommodate the needs of children, such as allowing them to testify sitting next to a trusted adult rather than sitting in the witness box. The memo also stresses the importance of child-sensitive questioning to ensure a more complete and accurate record.
This new memo is a welcome affirmation of the reality that children face unique challenges navigating an immigration court system designed for adults. While there is still much to be done to ensure that children’s rights are protected in immigration court, this memo is a welcome step in the right direction.
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