San Diego International Law Journal


Adrielli Ferrer

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



Children throughout the world are fleeing home situations of violence and seeking safety in the United States. Some children begin their migration with their families, only to find that some family members do not survive the journey, while others are separated by the United States government upon arrival. Some children are so driven by fear and desperation that they flee without family at all. Alone in the United States, unaccompanied children are a hyper vulnerable population. Exacerbating matters, upon encountering law enforcement, they are locked and contained within “secure facilities,” or detention centers. What can be done to aid detained unaccompanied children? This Comment identifies the atrocities unaccompanied children face in detention and proposes that greater due process rights of appointed counsel are necessary to end the problem of mass detention of unaccompanied children in the United States.

In the United States, the Constitution, statutory law, and case law are largely silent on whether an unaccompanied child has a right to counsel —they only guarantee protections for children in juvenile delinquency. At the same time, however, the United States has also pledged to uphold international law, and those responsibilities cannot be forgotten. Namely, the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees speaks directly to the detention of unaccompanied children.

International law demands far more protection than what the U.S. law currently provides. And fortunately, the U.S. does have comparable frameworks in place, specifically from the Sixth Amendment constitutional protections traditionally extended to children in the juvenile delinquency system. Still, the U.S. law has several options, and a long way to go, to align itself with international standards.