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Court of Appeals Rules Immigrant Minors Facing Deportation Have No Right to Government-Appointed Counsel

courtroom-144091_640The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and immigrant rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the federal government of denying due process for immigrant minors facing deportation. Last week, a ninth circuit panel ruled that courts do not have jurisdiction to decide whether undocumented minors have a right to appointed counsel in deportation hearings.

A Fight to Get Lawyers for Immigrant Minors

Several advocacy groups including the ACLU sued the government in July 2014 in behalf of immigrant minors, arguing there had been violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provision and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause that required fair and full hearings before immigration judges.

According to the advocacy groups, the minors – at least five of whom were detained at the border – couldn’t get fair and full hearings because they are just children who cannot pay for legal representation. Immigration law states, however, that undocumented minors – from infants to teens – facing deportation do not have a right to a lawyer, forcing them to face an immigration prosecutor alone in government removal hearings.

Court Rules against Providing Government-Appointed Counsel

A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the lawsuit, despite clear sympathy for the plaintiffs. The issue was deemed procedural – the minors, the court ruled, had to go through the immigration court system first, and that the system was not designed to entertain their assertions for government-appointed lawyers.

“Our answer to this jurisdictional query is no,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the panel, but added that there is a need to protect children who must struggle through the immigrant court system.

“I cannot let the occasion pass without highlighting the plight of unrepresented children who find themselves in immigration proceedings. While I do not take a position on the merits of the children’s constitutional and statutory claims, I write to underscore that the Executive and Congress have the power to address this crisis without judicial intervention,” she wrote. “What is missing here? Money and resolve: political solutions that fall outside the purview of the courts.”

McKeown states that the surge of undocumented minors at the Mexican border overwhelmed the immigration court system. She even prompted that the government describe the situation as a “humanitarian crisis.”

The government has put in money to increase the number of immigration judges and staff, but McKeown says it is not enough to address the magnitude of the problem. “Tens of thousands of children will remain unrepresented,” she wrote. “A meritorious application for asylum, refuge, withholding of removal or other relief may fall through the cracks, despite the best efforts of immigration agencies and the best interests of the child.”

If you would like to know more about the current situation that immigrant children face in deportation hearings, schedule a consultation with Lyttle Law Firm. Contact us at (512) 215.5225 or visit our Texas offices from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.