Several immigration reform advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the federal government Wednesday after the United States government continued to fail to provide legal representation to unaccompanied child immigrants facing deportation proceedings. Though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has provided representation for some individuals undergoing these proceedings, the lawsuit cites eight child immigrant plaintiffs who have not received representation during their trials.
The case presents an interesting dilemma considering the nature of the trials themselves. Deportation hearings are civil, not criminal, so the defendants are not actually guaranteed the right to legal representation. Many of the children never hire an attorney, due to a combination of socioeconomic factors, and end up showing up for their trials alone. The suit alleges that this occurrence, though technically legal, is unfair to the child immigrants, as they lack the emotional and intellectual capacities of adults and are typically unfamiliar with the nuances of the American legal system.
Ahilan Arulanantham works as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which was one of the groups that filed the suit on behalf of the child immigrants. Arulanantham, in speaking with the Los Angeles Times, furthered the sentiment that the children require representation for their hearings to be just and fair.
“Their ability to grasp what is at stake and even just perform the act of talking to a judge is virtually nonexistent,” he told the source. “A 10-year-old cannot make legal arguments and cannot even make reliably accurate factual statements that a court can rely on in deciding that child’s case.”
The lawsuit has named three offices as defendants in the case: The Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Justice.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, would only state that her agency refuses to comment on any litigation while it is still pending a verdict.