How Microsoft Is Defending Refugee Minors Facing Deportation – Forbes

Microsoft President Brad Smith at KIND's 2017 gala.

Credit: KIND

Microsoft President Brad Smith at KIND’s 2017 gala.

Microsoft President Brad Smith recalls that the decision to support immigration and refugees seemed natural when he created a pro-bono program for Microsoft lawyers in 2002. “We have employees in Washington State that have come here from 157 countries,” says Smith. “So we thought it was very consistent with the company’s own employee base and the way we look at the world.”

At first, Microsoft worked with local law firms focusing efforts exclusively in Seattle. In 2009 it partnered with actress Angelina Jolie to cofound Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

KIND created a network of lawyers representing minors who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian and face deportation proceedings alone. In 2009, there were about 66,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant kids worldwide  —  and six to eight thousand entering the U.S. According to a new UNICEF report the global figure has increased to a high of 300,000. In the U.S. alone it’s swelled to 59,692 in 2016, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. About 90% of them come from Central America to flee violence and abuse.

“I’ve been working on this issue for almost 30 years and I’ve never seen a moment like we’re seeing right now,” says KIND President Wendy Young.

As child migration has increased, so has its visibility with the immigration issue taking the spotlight in the presidential election. Smith says this has not deterred Microsoft from its commitment. Microsoft has donated $1 million a year since 2009 and last year 149 Microsoft lawyers donated 725 hours of pro-bono time to 75 kids. A single case can take up anywhere from eight months to two years in court.

“It’s been interesting because when the year began I think everyone started January by thinking that it would be harder to speak out on issues like immigration,” says Smith. “But I think that the business community and certainly the tech sector have found our voice.”

Since November, the nonprofit has seen a rise in the number of attorneys wanting to donate their time. The overwhelming majority has no immigration experience and rely on training provided by KIND. Aside from training and online materials, KIND provides pro-bono attorneys with mentoring. Despite the spike in volunteers, there remains a shortage of attorneys as at least 60% of unaccompanied minors don’t have access to legal representation.

“Kids as young as one or two years old are required to appear in immigration court in a very formal proceeding before an immigration judge from the Department of Justice, while a trial attorney from the Department of Homeland Security is arguing for the child’s deportation,” says Young. “The child is expected to articulate some defense against removal from the United States.”

Since immigration law is a civil and not a criminal matter, these kids have no constitutional right to an attorney — they have the privilege of counsel, but at no cost to the government.

“I do think that there are a great many companies that rely on an international employee base that serves the world as a market and that therefore have an interest in a healthy immigration system,” says Smith.

The private sector has potentially three assets to address issues important to them, whatever they may be, says Smith:

1. Employees’ volunteer time. “We, of course, don’t tell our employees that this is something they need to do, but we create a platform and we facilitate support for employees who want to be involved.”

2. Financial resources. “Companies have to decide how much they’re comfortable contributing to the community.”

3. Corporate voice. “We don’t speak out on every issue under the sun; we speak out on a subset of issues.”

Know of businesses engaged in interesting work with immigrants or refugees? Tell me about it: kblankfeld(at)gmail(dot)com.

Follow me on Twitter @kblankfeld

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