There is perhaps no more politically charged issue currently than the mass of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border looking to enter the United States. For the Obama Administration, however, this is no longer just a policy or PR concern, as civil rights groups have filed a class action lawsuit, blaming the Administration for not providing legal representation for children facing deportation hearings.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council and other groups filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle on July 9. The groups seek to have all children supplied legal counsel at these hearings, a right that is not currently given under current government rules.
“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, to the Wall Street Journal.
The lead plaintiff for the suit is a 10 year old boy from El Salvador whose father was killed by gang members. According to Arulanantham, the boy has an asylum claim, as he and his family have been threatened.
This lawsuit follows a new plan released by the Executive Office for Immigration Review in early July, which called for the hiring of nearly 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children. At the time, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the move would “protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.”
The Obama Administration furthered the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s plan in the President’s proposal for $3.7 billion in funding to deal with the issue at the border. As part of the proposal, Obama asked for $15 million to provide legal representation to children in immigration proceedings.
However, that proposal may not be quick enough for the civil rights groups filing the case. Although the suit is not directly tied to the growing number of immigrants at the border, the case could have a large effect on how they are treated by the government. As Arulanantham said, “The question is: should a 10-year-old have to marshal evidence and mount a case?”