Tentative proposal in children’s lawsuit for right to lawyer in deportation cases

Unaccompanied migrant children at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas (Photo courtesy U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar)
Unaccompanied migrant children at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas (Photo courtesy U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar)

A federal judge in Seattle has a tentative proposal to set who can join a class action lawsuit in a battle over whether undocumented immigrant children have a right to a lawyer in deportation hearings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly issued a court order this week that tentatively proposes that the class action suit includes children under 18 who are in deportation proceedings in the U.S. Ninth Judicial Circuit and who could be eligible for asylum, but who cannot afford a lawyer.

The U.S. Ninth Judicial Circuit includes cases in Washington, California, Arizona and eight other states and territories on the West Coast.

Zilly last week rejected a request by the federal Justice Department to have the case thrown out, according to Politico.

American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed the lawsuit in 2014 against the federal government on behalf of several children aged 1 to 17 who appeared in immigration court without a lawyer present. The children originally came from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico and are currently in Washington state and Southern California and had been in the United States for varying lengths of time.

They say that their right to a fair hearing was jeopardized because they didn’t have attorneys representing them, leaving the children — who have no legal training — to represent themselves in court.

Three of the children listed in the original suit include two brothers and an older sister from El Salvador — aged 10, 13 and 15 at the time of the filing and living in Washington state — who were threatened by a local gang if they did not join. Several years before they fled, the children saw their father, a former gang member, killed in front of their home in retaliation for helping others leave gangs.

After U.S. Customs and Border Protection caught the family in 2013, they were released to a family member in Washington state. But they faced their deportation hearings without a lawyer because they couldn’t afford one and legal service providers were stretched too thin to provide them with representation, according to the lawsuit. In 2014, a flood of undocumented children who entered the United States without adults strained social services, as well as immigration courts.

The parties in the case have until May 6 to respond to his class action proposal, Zilly’s court order said.

Additional coverage

Politico: Court order revives child migrant battle

AP: Lawyers: Children need lawyers in immigration court

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