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A Three-Year Old Immigration Lawyer?

Anyone who has ever interacted with a three-year old child is aware that they are dealing with a child, legally and morally unaccountable as a result of their young and underdeveloped brain. Nearly everyone that is, because senior Immigration Judge Jack H. Weil of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Department of Justice agency which overseas the Immigration Courts, apparently disagrees. The longtime immigration judge, who trains other immigration judges, asserted during a deposition in federal court that three and four-year old children can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court.

The judge was testifying in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups that is seeking to require the government to appoint a lawyer for children in immigration proceedings who cannot pay for the cost of their own representation. Judge Weil claimed during his deposition: “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year olds,” and then claimed that “you can do a fair hearing” with children functioning as their own immigration attorneys.

Unlike other many other court proceedings, children facing deportation in immigration proceedings are not entitled to court appointed counsel.  For those children without the means to hire their own representation, the burden of legal advocate falls squarely on the child’s own shoulders. The Justice Department estimates that 42 percent of the 20,000 unaccompanied children in deportation proceedings had no attorney. Many of these children lack even basic functional language skills in their native languages, let alone English.

Psychology professor at Temple University had this to say: “I nearly fell off my chair when I read that disposition. Three and 4-year olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”

The Department of Justice, for whom Judge Weil was testifying, sought to downplay his statements by noting that they came amidst a four-hour disposition.  The irony of using the claim that, in essence, “court hearings are long and difficult” to defend Judge Weil’s statements was apparently lost on the DOJ.  Judge Weil, meanwhile, defended himself by claiming that his statements do not reflect his views, and have been taken out of context despite the fact that he made the claim repeatedly and with adequate opportunity to correct himself.  Judge Weil apparently also missed the irony that children in deportation proceedings, like everyone else, are held to the “REAL ID” Act standards, which permit a judge to deny a claim and order them deported on the basis of any perceived inconsistency, no matter how minor and unrelated the inconsistency.

The Justice Department also defended its position that children facing deportation should not be entitled to appointed counsel by saying in 2014 that “Nothing in the Constitution requires the taxpayer to provide counsel to minors in immigration court”

The DOJ and Judge Weil are incorrect.  Due process requires full and fair hearings to all.  The law prohibits the U.S. from deporting any individual to persecution or torture.   The only way to ensure that those two things – required by the constitution and statute – are met is to provide representation to all individuals in removal proceedings, especially juveniles and other individuals who are not legally competent.    Anything less is cruel, inhumane, immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional.

-Lucas Caress,

Bardavid Law