Wednesday, July 9, 2014
The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP today filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of children who are challenging the federal government's failure to provide them with legal representation as it carries out deportation hearings against them.
Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama Administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a "humanitarian situation." And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.
The plaintiffs in this case include:
• A 10-year-old boy, his 13-year-old brother, and 15-year-old sister from El Salvador, whose father was murdered in front of their eyes. The father was targeted because he and the mother ran a rehabilitation center for people trying to leave gangs.
• A 14-year-old girl who had been living with her grandparents, but was forced to flee El Salvador after being threatened and then attacked by gang members.
• A 15-year-old boy who was abandoned and abused in Guatemala, and came to the United States without any family or friends.
• A 16-year-old boy born in Mexico who has lived here since he was 1 year old and has had lawful status since June 2010.
• A 16-year-old boy with limited communication skills and special education issues who escaped brutal violence exacted on his family in Honduras, and who has lived in Southern California since he was 8 years old.
• A 17-year-old boy who fled gang violence and recruitment in Guatemala and now lives with his lawful permanent resident father in Los Angeles.
All are scheduled to appear at deportation hearings without any legal representation and face a very real risk of being sent back into the perilous circumstances they left.
While 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. And there is no guarantee that additional funding proposed by the administration yesterday will materialize or meet the overwhelming need. In the meantime, children continue to appear alone in court every day.
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. Itseeks to require the government to provide children with legal repesentation in removal proceedings.
The case, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington. The Complaint is available here.
More information about this case is available here.