This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), immigrants rights groups, and a prominent law firm sued the United States government in a class-action lawsuit demanding legal representation for illegal immigrant children in deportation hearings.
According to the ACLU, the “complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a ‘full and fair hearing’ before an immigration judge.”
There have been at least 57,000 illegal immigrant children who have unlawfully entered the country since October of last year, and at least 30,000 are expected to enter in the next three months. In addition, at least 150,000 more are expected to enter the country in the next fiscal year. The number of illegal immigrants who have unlawfully entered the United States has spiked since President Barack Obama unilaterally enacted his temporary amnesty program in 2012.
The ACLU, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP said that, even though “the Obama administration recently announced a limited program to provide legal assistance to some youth facing deportation hearings, this proposal does not come close to meeting the urgent need for legal representation for all children whom the government wants to deport.”
As the Daily Beast notes, “if successful, the lawsuit would help far more kids than the eight named in the complaint,” especially since one 15-year-old plaintiff has lived in the United States since he was one and another 16-year-old plaintiff has been in the country since he was eight.
The Obama administration has requested at least $15 million to provide illegal immigrant children with lawyers in the $3.7 billion in funds they have asked for from Congress. And the Department of Justice also announced a $2 million program to provide illegal immigrant children with lawyers.
“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”
The Justice Department has stated that nearly half of the illegal immigrant children who are given notices to appear before immigration officials or judges do not show up to their hearings, which has given migrants in Central America the impression that they can indefinitely remain in the country if they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Requiring children to fight against deportation without a lawyer is incompatible with American values of due process and justice for all,” said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council, in a statement.
The case, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington.