Wide-eyed but stoic, Cesar recounted making his treacherous journey to the U.S. last fall to escape gang violence in his native El Salvador. The then-17-year-old fled, he said, after two Salvadoran thugs beat him near school, leaving him bloodied and bruised, to coerce him to join one of the country’s “most dangerous and sadistic gangs.” After Cesar still refused to join, he said, they threatened to kill him and even come for him at his home. But seven months after Cesar and his younger brother crossed into the United States seeking asylum, the teens are still waiting to secure legal representation.
Unlike with criminal courts in California, the government is not required to provide and pay for an attorney to represent someone in federal immigration court, even if they are minors. Toczylowski said she’s watched small children seeking refuge here “so young that their feet didn’t even touch the floor” when seated in court, facing a government-funded prosecutor and immigration judge on their own. “Here in the U.S., we have accepted that these kids are not entitled to a government-funded attorney whether that’s local or federal, and I think that’s a real shame,” Toczylowski said. Read the full story here