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Federal Court Denies Free Lawyers to Undocumented Minors
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Summary: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that undocumented immigrants who were minors could not receive a free attorney from the court. 

On Monday, a federal appeals court voted that undocumented immigrants who are minors are not entitled to government-paid lawyers in deportation cases. According to the Portland Press Herald, the court ruled unanimously, 3-0.

  
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The panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a case where a Honduran minor was denied asylum. The minor, known as C.J.L.G., left his country at the age of 13 after being threatened by gang members. He did not have a lawyer, and his mother Maria could not secure free legal counsel so she took it upon herself to do his paperwork.

The appeals court said that federal law did not grant undocumented immigrants the right to a free court-appointed lawyer. They also said that the boy failed to show he needed counsel to safeguard his rights.

Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said that “mandating free court-appointed counsel could further strain an already overextended immigration system.” The judges expressed sympathy for the boy’s situation, but they said that it was not the law to grant him a free attorney.

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Callahan said that she realized that their decision could send the boy back to Honduras, where his mother said he was actively being recruited by gangs.

The boy and his mother had crossed the border in 2014 and were caught by immigration officials in Los Angeles. An immigration judge told the boy’s mother that she was entitled to a lawyer, but she said that she could not afford an attorney so she filled out her son’s asylum paperwork herself. In the paperwork, she said that her son was threatened by the Mara gang and that is why they fled their country.



The ACLU of California has been working to try to get court-appointed attorneys for undocumented minors; and Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the court’s decision on Monday was “brutal.”

“It is brutal for him and also brutal for thousands of other children who have fled three of the most violent countries on Earth – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador,” Arulanantham said.

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

“The decision is incorrect and also just defies common sense,” Arulanantham said. “It is just sort of obvious that a child cannot get a fair hearing in a deportation case, particularly one as complicated as his … without a lawyer.”

Judge John B. Owens, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said that this ruling only affected minors who were brought over with undocumented adults and would not affect cases of unaccompanied minors. The other two judges did not endorse this statement.

What do you think about the 9th Circuit’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.



 

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