Under federal law, the government is not required to provide attorneys for immigrants of any age facing deportation. Immigrants can hire private attorneys or seek free legal representation. Thousands of minors undergo deportation proceedings every year, and most lack legal representation, the lawsuit says. The groups argue this practice violates the Constitution, saying the minors are entitled to due process under the Fifth Amendment…The lawsuit names Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, among other federal officials. The lawsuit is seeking to require the government to provide minors with legal representation. It’s also seeking class-action certification.
The groups argue withholding attorneys from minors violates provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge.
It wasn’t immediately known how much it would cost to have government-provided attorneys represent minors in immigration court. Recently the Obama Administration began a $2 million program through AmeriCorps to have 100 attorneys and paralegals working on cases with minors.
The minors in the lawsuit are living in California and Washington but are scheduled for deportation hearings in August and September.
According to the lawsuit, five of the minors fled El Salvador and Guatemala because of gang violence. Three of them saw their father murdered because he ran a rehabilitation center for gang members.
“Their ability to grasp what is at stake and even just perform the act of talking to a judge is virtually nonexistent,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit. “A 10-year-old cannot make legal arguments and cannot even make reliably accurate factual statements that a court can rely on in deciding that child’s case.”