We've previously discussed the fact that the cards are often stacked against children who end up in immigration courts in this country. The numbers of kids affected are significant. Over 60,000 minors came to the U.S. without parents or other adults accompanying them in 2014. Those numbers dropped somewhat in 2015, but have risen again this year. Many are fleeing violence and other crime in their Central American homelands.
Appeals Court Panel Rejects Lower Court Decision
One attempt by immigrant-rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure legal representation for these kids during deportation hearings suffered a setback this month. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling that agreed with the plaintiff's attorneys that children were being denied their rights to due process if not provided with an attorney by the government.
The judges ruled that individual minors could still file claims on the grounds they weren't provided an attorney in federal appeals courts once their deportation proceedings were over. However, as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project's legal director notes, "Unrepresented kids aren't able to go through that process. They don't have the capacity."
Judges Say Executive, Legislative Branches Need to Take Action
The judge who authored the unanimous decision acknowledged "the plight of unrepresented children who find themselves in immigration proceedings." However, she said that it's up to the president and Congress to change federal immigration law, which currently doesn't allow these claims to be filed in federal court. She says that these two branches of government lack the "money and resolve" to do it.
However, NIRP's legal director accused the panel of "duck[ing] the matter" by putting it in the hands of the executive and legislative branches.
The Obama administration has tried to improve the ability of immigrant children to get legal representation by earmarking $1.8 million to help pay the living expenses for legal fellows who handle such cases. In the meantime, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case are working to seek a new appeals court hearing before a larger panel of judges.
While legal resources are often too scarce for immigrants seeking to remain in this country, there are sources available for help. Many immigration attorneys provide their services to help immigrants, both adults and children, maneuver the complexities of the justice system.
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