One of the most heartbreaking things about immigration law is the fact that many times children are left to fend for themselves before the U.S. immigration courts. This is because there is no requirement for the government to provide attorneys to foreign nationals in removal proceedings. The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups are hoping to change this practice, and have filed a lawsuit to demand that the government provide attorneys to minor children who do not have anyone to safeguard their interests before the court.
It recently came to light that during a deposition associated with that lawsuit, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Jack Weil claimed it is possible for children to effectively represent themselves, stating “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds,” Weil said. “It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.”
Immigration law is extremely complex, and involves an ever-evolving web of federal statutes, administrative and federal court decisions, policy memos, as well as the interpretation of relevant state and local laws. It takes many years to master the process of appropriately analyzing and presenting cases before the court, and yet, the attitude of immigration officials, speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice, reveals that the government believes that allowing children to represent themselves is an acceptable means of administering justice.
I asked my four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, some of the questions that confront immigrants in removal proceedings. Can she represent herself? You be the judge.
Sarah Owings is an attorney at Antonini & Cohen Immigration Law Group. If you have any questions or concerns about your (or your child’s) immigration case, contact us for a consultation.