Appointed Counsel for Children in Immigration Proceedings

familes-and-children-held-in-u-s-customs-and-border-protection-processing-facility-1The humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border has been on the news every day, as President Obama vowed to get tough on the undocumented children who flee their Central American countries to the U.S.   These children, however, are not just fleeing from extreme poverty, but also crime, gang threats, and violence.

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children, but does not guarantee that those children have legal representation. Like adults, children who cannot afford to hire an attorney or find pro bono counsel are forced to navigate the complex and adversarial immigration system on their own, even though the government is always represented by trained attorneys.

On July 9, 2014, the American Immigration Council, with co-counsel American Civil Liberties Union, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP, filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on behalf of children who are challenging the federal government’s failure to provide them with legal representation as it carries out removal proceedings against them.

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. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their immigration proceedings.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, eight children between the ages of 10 and 17, are scheduled to appear in immigration court without any legal representation, including:

  • 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.

To review the complaint, click here.