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Should Immigrants as Young as Three Represent Themselves in Court?
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immigration minor

Summary: An immigration judge’s testimony in Seattle regarded the age that immigration children could be expected to represent themselves in court.

At what age should we expect children to be able to represent themselves in immigration proceedings? One senior Justice Department official contends that 3- and 4-year-olds have been able to before. The debate over who pays for the attorneys for immigrant children facing deportation has picked up in the last few years as more and more are sneaking across our Southern border.


Read Judge Stops Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration to learn about the current immigration issues.

Longtime immigration judge Jack H. Weil is responsible for training other judges. In his sworn testimony during a Seattle federal court deposition, he mentioned that thousands of children are required to defend themselves in immigration courts each year. He explained, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” This statement has legal and child psychology experts concerned as most milestones for kids at this age are learning to say simple sentences, building towers with blocks, and cooperating with other kids.

The American Civil Liberties Union along with immigrant rights groups are suing the government to provide counsel for all children that cannot afford an immigration lawyer. The Justice Department is fighting the lawsuit.

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See Obama’s Last Chance for Immigration Reform Rests with Supreme Court.

Weil’s statement came from a 4-hour long testimony that included various procedures, techniques, and safeguards. He claims his statement was taken out of context and does not represent what he thinks should actually happen.

Current law does not require counsel to be appointed in immigration violation proceedings unlike in felony criminal cases so children are left vulnerable. A number of pro bono organizations and a Justice Department program do what they can to help children find attorneys, some of which the government pays for, but there are too many cases for them to keep up with. Between July 2014 and late December, 42 percent of the 20,000 cases for unaccompanied children had no legal representation.

Read Costly Mistakes Can Be Made in Do-It-Yourself Immigration Software to learn about other immigration issues.

At the proceedings, the children and adults face the same type of immigration charges such as entering the country illegally. Generally the children cannot speak English but must somehow answer questions such as when they arrived in the U.S. and if they faced persecution in their home countries. Depending on how they answer certain questions, they may be prohibited from applying for other forms of immigration relief.




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