- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A Sioux Falls immigration lawyer is working to help 52 unaccompanied children apply to stay in the country after they entered without documentation.

Taneeza Islam wants the children who are taking refuge in South Dakota to be prepared legally before a judge decides whether to deport them, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1AowXGJ ) reported. She said the children’s best chance to remain in the U.S. is to seek asylum or a special juvenile immigrant status.

“To do those applications without a lawyer is difficult, and these are minors who don’t speak English and have minimal education,” Islam said. “So there are a lot of barriers for these minors who seek relief on their own.”

Although the state isn’t able to provide many legal resources to the children, Islam is hoping to change that through a Bush Foundation fellowship. Last week, she brought in the Advocates for Human Rights, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, to train 25 South Dakota lawyers to represent unaccompanied children.

If those lawyers decide to take on the immigration cases of the 52 unaccompanied children currently in South Dakota, they will be paired with one of the nonprofit’s lawyers, who will assist them in the case.

Being represented by a trained lawyer could triple the children’s chances of staying in the U.S., said Robin Phillips, the group’s executive director.

“There’s a lot of unmet legal needs, and these cases can be matter of life and death,” Phillips said. “The services are needed. We meet with people who have legitimate claims who haven’t been able to speak to a lawyer since they have been in the country, and it’s critical they have legal representation.”

Islam said she plans to continue working to bring legal assistances to the unaccompanied children and their families at little to no cost.

“People need to understand these kids are fleeing violence and crime-ridden areas and coming up through Central America on their own,” Islam said.

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