Nuestra Comunidad: Lawyers work tirelessly for defenseless children

It’s a matter of faith and numbers. Of faith because Christina Iturralde, coordinator of the nonprofit organization Kids in Need of Defense, has to have it every day to count on the assistance of a team of dedicated lawyers, who provide pro bono representation to immigrant and refugee children who arrive in the United States without any type of documentation. And about numbers, because approximately 1,041 children entered the state of Georgia as unaccompanied minors or alone in 2015, according to the Administration for Children & Families.

“This organization began in 2008, and it was a project based on an entity formed in Washington D.C., and the purpose was to find pro bono lawyers to help people who needed to be defended in immigration court. But they realized that the ones who needed the most help were children, because they didn’t have adequate resources,” explained Iturralde. “So the objective was to create a system that would teach lawyers how to defend these little ones. Through this project, with the support of Angelina Jolie and Microsoft, this organization was created and KIND now has 10 field offices throughout the country.”

Every week, in the downtown Atlanta branch of KIND, Iturralde and her team pore over at least 10 cases of children, who initially go through Catholic Charities and other organizations focused on social work.

“When they refer cases to us, without a doubt we have different experiences. But we can’t always help all the children we would like to, because our main objective is to help those children who came into the country unaccompanied. By the same token, one of our biggest hopes is that the community knows we are here,” said Iturralde.

KIND has handled cases of children ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old. “We don’t just handle cases of children who have come into the country alone, but rather we also see cases of children who have been victims of human trafficking or child abuse,” she added.

The organization has had a presence in Atlanta for seven months and Iturralde has worked with four attorneys, all of Hispanic heritage, for whom KIND’s mission is significant and hits close to home.

“The majority of cases we see are of children who come from El Salvador, and my parents are from El Salvador,” said legal assistant Kevin Amaya. “So the reasons that these children fled their country are the same ones that caused my parents to emigrate in the 1980s. El Salvador is right now the most violent country that is not currently in an active war.”

“My parents are immigrants, and I always knew that I wanted to work with the community, but I never imagined I would end up working with children. And to see the strength that they have, to come to a country that doesn’t always have its arms open, is something to admire,” said María Rodríguez, a lawyer in the Atlanta field office of KIND.

Iturralde, whose own parents are Ecuadorian, finds motivation in the same source. The day to day work she and her team encounter, however, is not without difficulties.

“If we take too long in finding a lawyer for a child, they run the risk of getting older and no longer being considered a minor. And in that case, we cannot help. So our mission is to find lawyers on time, who are willing to work pro bono and cover these cases, so that no child has to go to court alone,” said Iturralde.