Being detained by federal immigration officials and facing a hearing without adequate preparation or support can be an intimidating experience, which is something many in the Chicago area might already know. However, the situation is much more concerning for a growing segment of undocumented immigrants seeking an adjustment of status to avoid deportation: children.

According to reports, the rate of people entering the country without proper legal clearance is at the lowest levels in four decades. Yet, at the same time, the number of children crossing the border without adults -- and being captured by federal officials -- is growing at an alarming rate.

In many cases, children come to the United State by themselves for safety. Drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America has given children no option but to move somewhere safe. At times, the children travel alone because their family has passed away or they fear violence perpetrated by family members. The dangerous circumstances behind their decision to immigrate may cause federal officials to grant amnesty and provide a change to legal immigration status.

Although it's possible for these children to find a safe haven and legal status in the United States, the road to get there is often quite challenging. Even though child immigrants are supposed to be taken into protective custody, they are often locked in detention centers like adults. Furthermore, these children are often without legal representation. This pits very young children against an experienced government attorney, which is probably not a fair pairing.

Understanding the complexities of the current immigration system, it's clear as to why seeking adequate legal representation can be beneficial when trying to gain an adjustment of status. Unfortunately, the hurdles posed by deportation and the immigration process are only exacerbated for children who come to the United States without the tools they need to work through hearings.

Source: New York Times, "Child Migrants, Alone in Court," Sonia Nazario, April 10, 2013