Disappointing Ruling Won’t Stop Us From Defending Immigrant Children

jefm-response
 

As part of our community, we wanted to share with you a disappointing setback in our and our partners’ nationwide lawsuit seeking to require the government to provide attorneys for all children facing deportation hearings in immigration court. We just received a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; although the judges were sympathetic to the children’s “extremely difficult situation,” the court ruled that they did not have jurisdiction to hear our challenge.

Instead, the judges insisted that the claim (that children must be provided attorneys) must be brought individually and filed at the end of a long appeal process. Essentially, they want children without legal representation to lose their deportation cases in front of immigration judges, then file an administrative appeal, file briefs with arguments, obtain a final order on appeal, and bring their case to a federal appeals court and then make the case that being deprived of a lawyer violated their rights.

We disagree with and are profoundly disappointed in this ruling. This decision fails to recognize that while it may be theoretically possible for an unrepresented child to navigate the appeals process, it is practically impossible in the real world.

Despite this ruling, our resolve to advocate on behalf of immigrant children facing deportation continues as strongly as ever.

Our first step will be to seek a rehearing from a larger panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit. While we are cognizant that the court grants such review in a limited number of cases, we hope they will recognize the importance of this issue and reconsider the panel’s decision and allow the case to proceed.

We will also continue our ongoing efforts to provide legal representation to as many children in immigration court as we can, including the many unaccompanied youth who have fled extreme violence in Central America and have been placed in Washington State as they go through deportation proceedings. Youth like Anderson, an unaccompanied teenager from Honduras who recently got his green card and told us, “I want to be a pilot. But for now, I’m just happy to be safe in the United States.”

And we will continue advocacy efforts to urge Congress and the Obama administration to end the practice of forcing children to represent themselves in immigration court alone. In their ruling, the Ninth Circuit judges also called on them to act. They said, “Congress and the Executive should not simply wait for a judicial determination before taking up the ‘policy reasons and … moral obligation’ to respond to the dilemma of the thousands of children left to serve as their own advocates in the immigration courts in the meantime. The stakes are too high. To give meaning to ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ the tag line engraved on the U.S. Supreme Court building, to ensure the fair and effective administration of our immigration system, and to protect the interests of children who must struggle through that system, the problem demands action now.”

Join us and thousands of others across the country in calling on the Obama Administration to end the unjust practice of forcing children to represent themselves alone in deportation proceedings by signing this petition.

As we continue fighting to protect immigrant children, we are confident that we are on the right side of history. And we know that we couldn’t engage in these efforts without your support.