Get to Know J.E.F.M. V. Lynch

NWIRP and our partners are working to ensure no child has to face an immigration judge alone


Anderson and Lindsay

Each week, in immigration courts across the United States, hundreds of children come before immigration judges and are forced to represent themselves against deportation. Many of these children qualify for protections under our laws that would allow them to stay in the United States but do not have access to an attorney to make their case to a judge. Because our immigration system currently does not provide appointed attorneys to children facing deportation, these children are forced to represent themselves in court.

Among them is Arturo*.

Arturo’s mother fled El Salvador and left her son in the care of his aunt. However, because his family continued to fear for his safety in El Salvador, Arturo was brought to the border in Texas, taken into custody by the government, and put into deportation proceedings. He is now in the care of his mother in Los Angeles, who is a lawful permanent resident. Without legal assistance, Arturo has no way to explain to the immigration court whether he may be eligible for protection in the United States. Although he is only a toddler, the government has put him into deportation proceedings on his own. He has no attorney to help him explain to the court why he should not be deported. His case is not unusual. According to a 2014 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), less than a third of children with pending immigration cases had legal representation.

Without the help of an attorney, these children are much less likely to be able to stay safely in the United States. The same TRAC report revealed this in stark numbers: children with legal representation were ordered removed in 28% of cases while children without it were ordered removed in 77% of cases.

The government claims that immigration judges have the authority to provide children with time to find legal assistance. However, attorneys and court observers around the country report that children are receiving less time to find attorneys. The problem is made worse because the government is initiating deportation cases against increasing numbers of children, severely straining the limited pro bono legal services available.

Moreover, court observers report that immigration judges are asking children to complete complex forms like asylum applications, which must be completed in English, even if they have not found representation. Children must plead to the charges being brought against them without legal help—and some are even ordered deported or told to voluntarily depart the United States.

To ensure that all children are given the best chance at a fair hearing, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit on their behalf with the partnership of the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates.

The case, J.E.F.M. V. Lynch, seeks to require the federal government to provide legal representation to all children in immigration proceedings and has received nationwide attention in light of the surge of unaccompanied children who have made the dangerous journey to the United States to escape violence in their home countries.

As plaintiffs in the case argue, children simply cannot adequately prepare for these cases on their own. An immigration court system that requires them to do so is fundamentally unfair and violates due process.

*Name changed to protect our client’s identity