Thursday, August 18

Civil-Rights Groups File Class Action Lawsuit Amidst Unaccompanied Alien Children Crisis

Civil-rights groups this week have filed a class-action lawsuit faulting the U.S. government for its inability to provide adequate, legal representation to unaccompanied alien children who are facing deportation hearings.The American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other civil-rights groups have filed the lawsuit in Seattle’s U.S. District Court on the behalf of these unaccompanied alien children, or UACs as they’re being referred to. The suit seeks to require that agencies provide UACs with legal representation at their deportation hearings, since these kids aren’t currently guaranteed to receive help from any lawyers.

“The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

Historically, the U.S. hasn’t had to deal with child migrants often. Most of them typically come from Mexico, and are apprehended at the border, screened to see if they’re legally allowed to stay in the United States, and then either sent back or put into custody. However, more and more Central American children are migrating to the United States, who have to be given full court proceedings according to current U.S. policy.

Essentially, the UAC crisis is caused in part by the government’s lack of preparation.

“I would not say this is a question of inadequate prior legislation – most legislation is enacted to remedy an existing problem – the Mexico solution addressed that problem. This latest swarm of Central American children is now a new problem that Congress can fix, but unfortunately, politics will likely prevent a rational and appropriate remedy,” says Maria A. Sanders, Attorney at Lawat Legislative Intent Service, Inc. “However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t in place existing federal legislation that could provide solutions to this new immigration problem – perhaps finding that the children are refugees seeking political asylum, etc, could be utilized to fashion a solution for them. I’m sure that there are other adaptive solutions which we will hear more about over the next few days and weeks.” 

Of course, this isn’t to say that the government isn’t taking its own steps to protect these children while finding a feasible solution.The Justice Department announced that its Executive Office for Immigration Review would start hiring more immigration judges, and expanding access to legal resources and assistance.

What’s more, President Obama requested $3.7 billion in funding this week to help the government deal with the surge of Central American migrant children. The request calls for $15 million to give direct legal representation services to children in immigration proceedings.

Also, the Executive Office for Immigration Review heralded a new program that will enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals who will provide legal services to UACs. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, this is a step that will “protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.”

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