The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled unanimously that immigrant children are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney to assist and represent them in their deportation hearings—this after upholding a deportation order against a young Honduran boy who entered the United States to escape gang violence in his home country.
The panel, consisting of three judges of the appellate court, ruled per juriam to uphold the decision of an immigration judge to deny asylum to and deport a Honduran minor. The child, hidden under the pseudonym “CJLG,” was 13 years old when he was forced to leave Honduras with his family to escape gang violence.
The boy and his mother, Maria, appeared before immigration court unable to afford legal representation nor access the country’s roster of service lawyers. The court promptly denied asylum to the child and ordered his deportation.
Defendants in the United States have the right to be represented by a court-appointed attorney as they face legal proceedings, paid for by the federal government. The 9th Circuit’s ruling, however, concludes that immigrant children are not entitled to free legal representation.
Maria appealed to the immigration judge, claiming that she was wholly incapable of affording legal representation for the duration of the proceedings. After ample continuances, the judge had to carry on with the proceedings without a legal professional to represent the Honduran family. The judge found, despite pleas and testimonies from CJ and his mother, that their situation did not qualify them for asylum.
Writing on behalf of the panel, Judge Consuelo Callahan said, “We are mindful that our decision means that, absent a reprieve offered by the government, CJ will likely be returned to a country in turmoil. We sympathize with his personal plight … but while our hearts are with [CJ], the law does not support his requested relief.”
The judges argue that Congress has yet to extend the constitutional right to include minors and immigrants, justifying the absence of an attorney to fight the child’s case in court.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claims that such a system would enable the government to “pit trained prosecutors against children fleeing persecution.”
Likewise, immigration rights advocates worry that the ruling would set the precedent for the mass deportation of vulnerable children to some of the most violent places in the world.
The ruling comes at a time of increased tensions over U.S. immigration policy, with President Donald Trump’s rhetoric over legal and illegal immigration drawing criticism for painting all immigrants as criminals.
If you, or a loved one, need assistance on your asylum application, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.