Advocates Sue For Children's Legal Representation In Immigration Court
PHOENIX — A new federal lawsuit is challenging the fact that most children in deportation proceedings don’t have access to court-appointed attorneys.
A coalition of civil rights groups bringing the suit argue there is no way for children to have a fair hearing if they represent themselves.
The plaintiffs in the case are eight immigrant children who are in deportation proceedings. Most reside in California and Washington state.
They are suing to get court-appointed lawyers to represent them. They hope the case will be a class action that will extend to all children in deportation proceedings.
A coalition of civil rights groups filed the suit in federal district court in Seattle on Wednesday.
One of the attorneys, Matt Adams of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said it violates immigration law and the constitutional right to due process to put children in an adversarial court process without providing them with an attorney.
“One of our main plaintiffs is a 10-year-old boy,” Adams said. “I had him here in my office. He is sitting here playing with his Etch-a-Sketch on his lap. Not even understanding what we are talking about. How is that child going to go into court opposed by an immigration attorney for the government and present his applications for relief? It is laughable.”
Advocates estimate that more than 50 percent of children in immigration court do not have attorneys.
Many who do rely on a network of volunteers who represent them pro bono.
Last month the Department of Justice announced a new initiative to hire about 100 attorneys and paralegals to provide legal services to child migrants, but advocates say that program will only help a tiny fraction of children in deportation proceedings who need legal help.