Don’t Force Three-Year-Olds to Represent Themselves in Court

RefugeesArePeople-LouiseCoghill

Target: Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Goal: Ensure that no minors are forced to represent themselves in court.

Judge Jack Weil believes that three-year-olds can defend themselves in immigration court. The judge, moreover, reported in a deposition that he has “trained three-year-olds and four-year-olds in immigration law.” Weil’s peculiar position takes a turn to the perverse when one realizes that he is an immigration judge responsible for training other judges. Judge Weil’s deposition and his authoritative position suggest that the U.S. government believes that vulnerable children should be responsible for their own legal defense.

The biggest concerns facing a toddler should be grasping object permanence and grammatical speech, not representing themselves in immigration court. Sadly, that commonsense understanding is not reflected by reality. As the ACLU’s Ahilan Arulanantham told As It Happens, “in 2014, roughly 60,000 children sought asylum in the United States,” but “Only half of them received legal representation.”

Perhaps, as Justice Department lawyers argue, “Nothing in the Constitution requires the taxpayers to provide counsel to minors in immigration court,” but justifying self-representation by minors as a cost saving measure is unconscionable. Sign below to demand that the Justice Department recognize that all children are entitled to an attorney.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Attorney General Loretta Lynch,

Judge Weil’s disturbing pronouncements on his ability to instruct toddlers in immigration law, so that deportation proceedings can continue without the need to provide legal representation, have been widely reported. As Senator Leahy said, “I’ve never heard such a stupid, stupid, stupid thing from a judge or anybody else.” No child, let alone a three- or four-year-old, should be forced to represent themselves in court.

While department spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid’s insistence that “At no time has the Department indicated that three- and four-year-olds are capable of representing themselves” is heartening, it is undercut by the Justice Department’s activities. Of approximately 60,000 children seeking asylum in 2014, only half received legal representation. Moreover, the Justice Department has actively resisted efforts to secure representation for minors, writing in a motion that “Nothing in the Constitution requires the taxpayers to provide counsel to minors in immigration court.” Rather than bowing to common sense, the Justice Department’s resistance to providing legal counsel to minors has inflicted Kafkaesque scenes on the nation’s courts. Senator Reed conjured one such tableau on the senate floor, telling the public how a terrified child stood before a looming microphone, unable to tell the judge anything more than the name of the doll she clutched.

This is not the moment for a PR campaign; it is time to take real action. Work to ensure that no children are forced to represent themselves in court and, if no representation can be found, see that proceedings are halted.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo: Louise Coghill

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