Senior Justice Department Official: “I’ve told you I have trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law’’
Earlier this year we learned that the Obama administration had ramped up efforts targeting young people who fled violence in Central America for deportation. While the administration insists those targeted in the most recent enforcement actions have exhausted all legal remedies under U.S. law—recent reports on the state of our immigration court system suggest that meaningful due process is not being given. In fact, as Jerry Markon points out in his most recent piece in the Washington Post, the man responsible for coordinating the Justice Department’s training of immigration judges, recently advocated for allowing 3 and 4 year old immigrants to represent themselves in court. Per Markon:
A senior Justice Department official is arguing that 3- and 4-year-olds can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court, staking out an unconventional position in a growing debate over whether immigrant children facing deportation are entitled to taxpayer-funded attorneys.
He [Weil] noted that all defendants, including children, are explained the charges against them, both in notices to appear in court and by judge in the courtroom.
Arulanantham then asked Weil, “It must be true that there’s some children that are so young that even if they receive the notice and even if they’re given an explanation by the judge, they’re still not going to understand what’s going on, right?’’
“I have to do a case-by-case basis determination,’’ Weil responded, before declaring that he has taught immigration law to 3- and 4-year-olds.
Weil’s comments sparked outcry from various legal experts and child psychologists who called his testimony “preposterous” and asserted that in most other areas of the law children are deemed mentally incapable to make such consequential decisions themselves. Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University who is quoted in the piece, notes, “I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition…Three- and 4-year-olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”
Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund added, “In matters of life or death—which many deportation cases are—a Justice Department official claiming that a toddler can defend him or herself in court shocks the conscience. Whatever their talking points may be, this administration has made it clear—it’s not about protecting refugees or treating vulnerable populations humanely, it’s about enforcing immigration laws aggressively. That is shameful.”