Rights Groups Sue US Government over Deportation of Children

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Rights Groups Sue US Government over Deportation of Children

'These children face an imminent threat of being deported,' a lawyer for the coalition argues, 'potentially to their death.'

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

A coalition of immigration and human rights groups on Friday sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other high-level government officials in federal court in an attempt to address the ongoing crisis of child refugees who are being sped through the U.S. government's deportation process after being taken into custody near the nation's southern border.

The group of legal advocates—which includes the ACLU, the American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP—say they are trying to block the government from pursuing deportation proceedings against several children unless it ensures those youth have legal representation. The coalition charges that immigration courts—under the direction of the Obama Justice Department—are speeding up deportation hearings against children in a way that is irresponsible and puts their very lives at stake. The children, most of the unaccompanied, are being pushed through the system—the lawyers for groups contend—without proper representation and little, if any, understanding of what is happening to them.

"These children face an imminent threat of being deported, potentially to their death," said Ahilan Arulanantham, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. "To force them to defend themselves against a trained prosecutor, with their lives literally on the line, violates due process and runs counter to everything our country stands for."

The groups filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of thousands of children challenging the federal government's failure to provide them with lawyers in their deportation hearings. The preliminary injunction motion, filed by the groups late on Thursday, specifically asks that the fast-approaching deportation proceedings for several of the named plaintiffs be forestalled until those children are provided with attorneys. The groups also asked the court to hear their motion for class certification as soon as possible, so that other unrepresented children may be protected as well.

According to a statement from the coalition, the plaintiffs cited in the motion are:

  • A 10-year-old boy, his 13-year-old brother, and 15-year-old sister from El Salvador, whose father was murdered in front of their eyes. The father was targeted because he and the mother ran a rehabilitation center for people trying to leave gangs.
  • A 14-year-old girl who had been living with her grandparents, but was forced to flee El Salvador after being threatened and then attacked by gang members.
  • A 15-year-old boy who was abandoned and abused in Guatemala, and came to the United States without any family or friends.
  • A 17-year-old boy who fled gang violence and recruitment in Guatemala and now lives with his lawful permanent-resident father in Los Angeles.

On Friday, with the Senate now recessed for the month of August, there is zero hope in Washington, DC that a legislative solution to the humanitarian crisis of the children will emerge from Congress until lawmakers return next week.

As The Hill reports:

Top Obama administration officials have deemed the children priorities for removal, and not eligible for the president’s deferred action program that allows some younger illegal immigrants to remain in the country.

The influx of cases has strained immigration courts, prompting the Justice Department to scramble to install more judges.

Still, the advocacy groups say an expedited deportation process dubbed the "rocket docket” puts children in danger of being wrongfully deported.

“Many children are eligible to remain in the United States, but may be ordered deported simply because they do not understand our complex immigration laws and how to prove their claims," said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director of the American Immigration Council.

The lawsuit, J.E.F.M. v. Holder, was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Wash. It charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act's provisions requiring a "full and fair hearing" before an immigration judge.

Talia Inlender, staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, said, "These children, like so many others who contact our office each day, live in fear of being sent back to the violent countries they fled but have no idea how to defend themselves in a courtroom. The government's rush to deport these children who stand alone and voiceless in court violates our laws and undermines our values as a nation."

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