No guardianship, no rights: foreigners lose right to free legal aid as they turn 18
They denounce that without residence or work permits they cannot prove that they meet the requirements for a court appointed attorney
BarcelonaThe administration denies the right to free legal aid to young foreigners formerly under the Generalitat's guardianship. They arrived in the State risking their lives, alone and without family references and many of them, due to bureaucratic problems or the lack of a passport, are left without legal aid as they turn 18. Although they have the right to it, many of them do not have a residence permit or, when they have to renew it at the age of 21, they find that they have to prove they have a €2,000 monthly salary, an amount which in practice slams the door shut on many of them. Many organisations that take care of them and even the Directorate General of Child Care (DGAIA) note that this often pushes them into delinquency to survive.
For many of these young people, the only thing left to do is to take legal action. And this is the beginning of another struggle, because, with no money and often living on the streets or in squats, they cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend their interests, nor can they ask for a court-appointed lawyer. To access free justice, the Immigration Office of Barcelona requires documentation proving that they are below minimum income. The problem is that these kids, undocumented, do not have legal authorisation to work and, therefore, neither have a salary nor tax returns, denounces Albert Parés, a lawyer for NGO Nuevas Vías, which has been working with this group for years. In addition, they are not taken into account that, although they do not have a salary, they may have covered basic needs for food or housing thanks to programmes subsidised by the Generalitat, run by entities that support them in their passage from the juvenile detention to adult life. Nor do they take into account the €664 benefit all youths formerly under the Generalitat's guardianship -including those with a Spanish passport- receive, and which is linked to training programs.
Parés explains that, to avoid leaving them legally helpless, he waives his fees as a lawyer, but, as the delegation of foreigners in Barcelona systematically rejects young people's requests, they are sentenced to pay the costs of the process. "It is €200, but they don't have them", the lawyer emphasises, and points out that if the appeal is made then the solicitor's fees still have to be added to the legal bill. "They are being denied the right to free justice, without the possibility of rebuilding their lives," complains the lawyer.
Recently the DGAIA estimated that there are about 6,000 young people under 21 who were formerly under the Generalitat's guardianship and are in a particularly vulnerable situation, especially following last year's ruling in which the Supreme Court established applicants must have a monthly salary of at least €2,000 to their name. For Parés, the only "solution" is to approve as soon as possible the new immigration regulations presented two months ago by the Ministry of Social Inclusion and Migration and which, in principle, will give work permits to these kids when they turn 18. It was announced the measure would be retroactive, so that these young people will be given their permits once it is passed.