The author explores the various everyday challenges faced by non-citizen youth in U.S. immigration courts from the perspective of a long-serving immigration judge. Because the stakes of these proceedings are so dire, they have been analogized to death penalty cases, yet they are conducted in settings more closely resembling traffic courts. No attorney representation is guaranteed, despite the fact that immigration law is considered by higher courts to be second only to tax law in its complexity and is dramatically misaligned with many state laws with which it intersects. Young people move through a court system that is difficult to understand and even more challenging to navigate. The challenges raised by such legal issues are compounded by the impact of poverty, the lack of education, cultural differences and misunderstandings such as those caused by interpretation issues or implicit bias, and the reality that many in these proceedings suffer emotionally and psychologically from post-traumatic stress. As young people move through the immigration court system, they must simultaneously confront the less tangible yet profoundly limiting structures of exclusion and marginalization in the United States.
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