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Fight to secure legal counsel for unaccompanied minors continues

When it comes to the always controversial subject of immigration and deportation, much of the dialogue inevitably focuses on the supposed waves of people coming to the U.S. in search of work.

Indeed, the discussion on this topic is sometimes so laser-focused that it overlooks the distressing reality that there is another group of people who are coming here to the U.S. in waves in an attempt to escape extreme poverty and the threat of gang violence.

The people in question are undocumented minor children who travel unaccompanied for thousands of miles to the southern U.S. border from countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

According to statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an astounding 7,643 of these unaccompanied minors were deported from 2012 to 2015, and another 171,000 apprehended at the border during the same timeframe.

The general process for those unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border is for them to be initially detained and processed by Customs and Border Patrol, which will seek to ascertain whether they are victims of trafficking or persecution in their home nation.

While those who are determined to fit this criteria are ultimately transferred into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, those who are not will find themselves brought before an immigration court for removal proceedings, where they will shockingly not be provided with any sort of legal assistance.

In recognition of the inherent inequity of this reality, the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of other immigrant advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit in 2014, the year that to-date saw the largest number of unaccompanied minors.

The lawsuit, among other claims, alleges that by failing to provide these children with any sort of legal counsel, the Justice Department is violating their right to a fair trial under the Immigration and Nationality Act and their right to due process.

While the lawsuit is still ongoing, it's worth noting that the ACLU recently posted a copy of a deposition that was originally submitted to the court by the Justice Department back in January.

What makes this so newsworthy is that the person being deposed, a Virginia-based immigration judge, makes the jaw-dropping claim that toddlers are capable of navigating immigration court.  

"I've taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience," said the judge. "They get it. It's not the most efficient, but it can be done."

While the DOJ is currently fighting the lawsuit, it's worth noting that the Obama Administration has not expressed any support for this statement and actually appears to be in favor of providing all individuals with representation in immigration court proceedings.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case, which has a hearing scheduled at the end of the month.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you have questions about deportation defense or other important immigration law matters, please do not hesitate to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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