10 July 2014, 19:28

Coalition Sues Federal Government on Behalf of Children Facing Deportation

Anselma Lopez, 47, has a son in a detention center in Arizona.

Anselma Lopez, 47, has a son in a detention center in Arizona.

Anselma Lopez, 47, has a son in a detention center in Arizona.

By Sean Nevins

WASHINGTON (VR) – GDS, who is identified by his initials to protect his identity, is sixteen years old and was brought to the United States from Mexico by his mother when he was only one. He has legal status, the right to live and work in the United States, but the government is currently seeking to take that status away and remove him from the country. Leaving the US means that he would be permanently separated from his mother, his only family, and sent back to Mexico, a country where he has no support network, and knows nothing about, explained Matt Adams, the legal director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Seattle, Washington.

NWIRP, which provides representation to low-income immigrants in Washington State, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of children, like the above mentioned, that are forced to appear in immigration court without an attorney.

The organization filed the lawsuit – along with the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP – against the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration court system, the Attorney General, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles the placement of children that are stopped at the border.

“When we’re looking at a child,” said Adams, “when you have a 10 year old or a 15 year old, sitting there [in court without an attorney of their own] opposed by an attorney from the Department of Homeland Security and they’re tasked with trying to present their defense, it’s a mockery of any idea of a fair hearing.”

The lawsuit has 8 named plaintiffs but is being “filed on behalf of all children” that have to face an immigration judge, explained Adams.

Currently, the government does not provide representation to children in immigration cases because immigration law is part of the civil system, which does not require them to provide public defenders like it does in criminal proceedings.

“There’s a separate part of the Constitution, under the 6th amendment, which has been interpreted to say that they need to provide public defenders in criminal cases,” explained Adams. “We’re arguing that the constitution also requires that [children]… have attorneys even though it’s a civil proceeding because the constitution requires that they be given a fair hearing.”

Kathryn Mattingly from the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Department of Justice told VR that, “EOIR does not comment on pending litigation,” when asked about the case.

The Federal government is expecting upwards of 60,000 unaccompanied minors to cross the border into the United States during fiscal year 2014, the majority of which will not receive legal representation when facing an immigration judge, as reported by VR in March.

immigration, american civil liberties union, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project , Matt Adams, Public Counsel, K&L Gates LLP , World
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