Last week, Jerry Markon of the Washington Post wrote a startling piece entitled “Can a 3-year old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so.” It quotes sworn testimony from Jack Weil, a senior Justice Department official and a long-time immigration judge who is responsible for training other judge, who asserts “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time…It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.”
Say what? When a senior official at the DOJ says young children can understand how to defend themselves in adversarial proceedings that can be a matter of life and death, our nation’s commitment to due process in the context of immigration proceedings is fundamentally flawed. Yet, the Obama Administration barrels forward in its drive to conduct quick proceedings and deport vulnerable Central Americans in order to send a message of deterrence to the violence-wracked region. A much more sane approach is represented by legislation introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) which would require that unaccompanied minors be provided with attorneys.
The New York Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times, La Opinion and Fusion have all weighed in with must read pieces on the judge’s outrageous statements and the sorry state of our immigration court system. Below we excerpt from the New York Times editorial, entitled “Migrant Children Deserve a Voice in Court:”
In this time of political absurdity, can it be any surprise that a federal immigration judge insists that toddlers can represent themselves in immigration court?
…While federal law does not require that noncitizens be given government-appointed lawyers in immigration proceedings, it does require a “full and fair hearing” before a judge. Yet the administration argues that it has no constitutional obligation to provide counsel for children in immigration court and refuses to acknowledge the injustice of having children too young to understand the legal process fending for themselves in deportation hearings.
The result would be farcical were it not also tragic, because these children face grave danger, if not violent death, in being returned to their home countries.
Not everybody gets this. At a hearing last month in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of Washington’s leading nativists, raised an alarm about the children at the border not because they were being denied due process, but because the government was failing to deport them faster. But under international and American law, they have every right to ask for protection.
Many of them do lose their cases and are ordered deported, often in absentia if they fail to show up for hearings. Mr. Sessions and others see this as evidence of criminality. More likely it’s because these children have no one to help them make their case and don’t understand what the court expects of them. Immigration advocates note that when children are represented by counsel, they are far more likely to return to court, and far less likely to be ordered deported.
… A bill by Senator Harry Reid would require that the government appoint lawyers for unaccompanied children and for victims of abuse, torture or other violence. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to make sure immigrant detainees know their rights and responsibilities under the law. But since the bill is unlikely to become law anytime soon, the Obama administration needs to act, now, to ensure that children receive a fair day in court.
… These children and their lawyers could also pursue remedies outside immigration court — for example, in seeking special visas for victims of human trafficking and other crimes. There should never be a rush to push children who are alone through a process that doesn’t begin to resemble justice.