A US organisation set up by Microsoft and the actor and UN special envoy for refugees, Angelina Jolie, to help unaccompanied child immigrants, is to establish a pilot project in Ireland.
The organisation, Kind (Kids in Need of Defense), works with law firms but also the legal departments of major corporations, by providing training to lawyers who volunteer to help unaccompanied minors.
In the US the organisation works with about 650 law firms and corporate legal departments and has trained about 40,000 lawyers and paralegals.
It has managed to provide around 22,000 children, who arrived unaccompanied in the US, with legal support in the 10 years since it was established.
A number of years ago it helped set up a similar operation in the UK and it is now working on setting up projects in Ireland, France, Belgium and Greece.
"Ireland is on the list because in Ireland, though it has a strong legal aid programme, there are certain aspects of protection for children on the move that are not funded by the government," Kind president Wendy Young said.
The organisation sees a need for volunteer lawyers to help children, who have been granted the right to stay here, apply for family reunification which may not always be covered by free legal aid.
Ms Young is hopeful that the large number of multinational corporations based in Ireland, will help make a success of the project.
“Microsoft, for example, is very keen to support the Irish effort,” she said. “In the US we have in the neighbourhood of 135 or 150 major international corporations doing pro bono [work] with us.”
Kind has a staff of 190, most of whom are experts in immigration law. “Their job is to train and mentor the private sector lawyers so the volunteer lawyer provides quality representation to the child.”
With the Irish operation, Kind will offer the Irish Refugee Council and the Immigrant Council of Ireland financial support but also the benefits of its experience and contacts.
In 2017, 175 unaccompanied minors sought protection in Ireland, according to a report by the ESRI.
The treatment of immigrant children in the US has been very controversial. There has been a surge in the number arriving at the border fleeing gang violence and drugs gangs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Ms Young said.
In the year to September 2019, about 75,000 unaccompanied children sought protection in the US.
Historically the vast majority went through the immigration system without representation. Those with legal representation are five times more likely to be granted some form of protection.
“I’ve seen five-year-olds standing before an immigration judge in a formal courtroom, the judge behind his bench, an expert lawyer there from the Department of Homeland Security, and the child with no lawyer,” Ms Young said.
She is to speak in Dublin on Tuesday at the launch of Pro Bono Week, an event organised by A&L Goodbody and Arthur Cox, as well as the Public Interest Law Alliance and TrustLaw, a global pro bono legal programme.