As children fleeing violence in Latin America stream over the border by the thousands, the Los Angeles Timesreports:
Immigrant advocacy groups sued the federal government on Wednesday for what they say is a failure to provide legal representation for immigrant children facing deportation.
In a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle, attorneys for the groups allege that the government is violating due process by allowing some children to navigate the complex immigration legal system alone...
Many of the children never hire attorneys, appearing in court by themselves. Because immigration cases are civil, not criminal proceedings, defendants are not guaranteed the right to legal counsel.
Most of the groups filing the suit are national in stature—the ACLU, for example. So why are they suing in Seattle? Matt Adams, Legal Director for the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, explains that two of the plaintiffs in the suit, which is seeking class-action status, live here now.
They can't be named because they are minors. One is a 15-year-old boy who was abused and abandoned by his family in Guatemala, Adams says. He struck out on his own and crossed the border, where he was detained and then released pending deportation proceedings to someone who knows his family living here in Seattle. The other is a 16-year-old from Mexico who's lived here with his mother since he was a baby, Adams says.
Another of the plaintiffs is a teenage girl who fled El Salvador after being threatened by gang members. Several live in other areas of Washington.
There are far more children, facing similar circumstances as the aforementioned kids, than groups like NWIRP have the capacity to represent pro-bono, according to Adams. The majority of them, including most of the 52,000 unaccompanied kids who've crossed the border between last October and this June, go before judges without any representation. The government, meanwhile, is always represented with an attorney, often seeking a deportation order.
Adams says the groups held off filing the lawsuit for months, waiting for reforms to the immigration system that haven't arrived. And while the Obama administration's request for new funds to hire lawyers for a portion of the children is a heartening move, he says, it's unlikely to get through Congress. "We’re at the point where we need actions more than words." The first hearing in the case is expected within the next few months.