Federal court rejects immigrant children’s class action suit

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)

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a class action lawsuit which claimed that undocumented immigrant children should have a right to a lawyer in deportation hearings.

The class action suit filed by American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project included 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 three-judge panel said the cases must be appealed individually and that it is not under the jurisdiction of the district court, and Judge Mary Margaret McKeown criticized the Obama administration and Congress for not taking political action to address the crisis of children appearing alone in deportation hearings, according to NPR.

The ACLU told Politico this week that though they were on the losing end of the appeal, the judges recognized that “children cannot represent themselves in immigration hearings.”

In an email to supporters, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Executive Director Jorge Baron said, “Essentially, they want children without legal representation to lose their deportation cases in front of immigration judges, then file an administrative appeal, file briefs with arguments, obtain a final order on appeal, and bring their case to a federal appeals court and then make the case that being deprived of a lawyer violated their rights.”

The lawsuit was filed in 2014 against the Justice Department 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.

Information from The Seattle Globalist archives was used in this report.

Further reading

Politico: Child migrants lose major case in federal court

NPR: U.S. Appeals Court Rejects Class Action Lawsuit Filed By Immigrant Kids

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