WASHINGTON—Civil-rights groups on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit that faults the U.S. government for not providing legal representation to children facing deportation hearings, the latest wrinkle for the Obama administration as it scrambles resources to meet a surge of unaccompanied minors arriving at the nation’s southwest border.
The suit seeks to require agencies to provide children with legal representation at deportation hearings. These children aren’t guaranteed lawyers at their hearings, though some obtain them through nonprofit groups or other means.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council and other groups on behalf of children facing deportation hearings.
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“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,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
The suit, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, names as its lead plaintiff a 10-year-old from El Salvador whose father was killed by gang members. He and his family have subsequently been threatened, creating a plausible asylum claim, Mr. Arulanantham said.
“The question is: should a 10-year-old have to marshal evidence and mount a case?” he said.
The suit isn’t directly tied to the surge of unaccompanied minors arriving at the southwest border but, if successful, could have a significant impact on government efforts to deal with that crisis.
Also Wednesday, the Justice Department said it would take several steps to deal with the surge in border crossings by minors and families, including prioritizing cases involving migrants who have recently crossed the southwest border and have been placed into deportation proceedings.
The Justice Department said its Executive Office for Immigration Review would hire more immigration judges, including temporary ones, and expand access to legal resources and assistance for people in removal proceedings.
Last week, the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced a new program to enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services to unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Attorney General Eric Holder called it a step to “protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.”
President Barack Obama on Tuesday requested $3.7 billion in funding to help cope with the tide of children and families illegally entering the U.S. from Central America. He also is proposing legal changes that would allow children who arrive alone to be sent home more quickly. Current law, which dates to 2008, requires that children other than from Mexico and Canada be placed with sponsors in the U.S. while waiting for a court to hear their deportation cases, a process that can take years.
Mr. Obama’s request calls for $15 million to provide direct legal representation services to children in immigration proceedings.
The ACLU and other groups began laying the groundwork for their case before the crisis on the southwest border reached a head. Mr. Arulanantham said the suit follows a successful effort launched four years ago to win the legal right to representation for people with serious mental disorders at deportation hearings.
Government agencies named in the suit declined to discuss details of the case. The Justice Department is “reviewing the complaint and will not comment further on matters in the initial stages of litigation,” a spokeswoman said.
Spokesmen for the Health and Human Services Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau said the agencies don’t comment on pending litigation. “On the general issue, though, minors in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program are given a ‘Know Your Rights’ session, and children at UAC shelters have access to phones to contact family or legal services,” the HHS spokesman said.
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The ACLU is not what is once was. Seems just another organization devoted to getting as many immigrants as possible into the USA.