Illegal immigrant children don't have right to free lawyer

Lester Mason
January 31, 2018

A federal appeals court decided unanimously Monday that minor immigrants who are in the country without legal authorization are not entitled to government-paid lawyers in hearings that could lead to their deportation.

The Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals in California's ruling upheld the deportation of a Honduran minor, referred to in court documents as "C.J.", who illegally immigrated to the escape the threat of gangs in his home country.

Thus, consistent with the prevailing rule that a litigant must show prejudice to vindicate a due process violation, C.J. must show both that his constitutional rights were violated for lack of court-appointed counsel and that this prejudiced the outcome of his removal proceeding.

The plaintiffs said numerous thousands of children the government seeks to deport each year appear before judges without a lawyer because they can't afford one or find one to take their cases for free.

"It is a brutal decision", said Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.

"The statistical evidence, which the court acknowledged, is that children are many, many times more likely to win their cases if they have legal representation", he said.

"Mandating free court-appointed counsel could further strain an already overextended immigration system", wrote Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. The minor, known as C.J.L.G., left his country at the age of 13 after being threatened by gang members. The case went forward without an attorney, and the judge rejected the boy's asylum application.

The ACLU had taken on the boy's case in hopes that courts will appoint a free lawyer to undocumented minors in the future.

An immigration judge is required to fully and fairly ascertain and assess all the facts in the case, not just act as a neutral arbiter, according to Callahan. Ultimately, the IJ and BIA denied CJ's request for asylum and granted the government's deportation petition.

Once in the USA, the mother could not afford an immigration lawyer.

"If this decision stands, thousands of unaccompanied children who are presently in the system will be ordered removed and will never get a day in court", Arulanantham said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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