On Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that a child of a parent who is living in the United States illegally has no constitutional right to a court-appointed counsel in an immigration hearing.
The ruling upheld the deportation proceedings against a boy from Honduras, who along with his mother had come to America as a 13 year old in 2014, in order to flee gang violence in his homeland. During the deportation hearing in immigration court the boy had no legal counsel.
The three-judge 9th Circuit Court panel said that extending the right for a free-of-charge court-appointed counsel to accompanied immigrant minors would require an act of Congress.
While defendants in criminal cases have long had a constitutionally guaranteed right to an court-appointed lawyer, as a general rule the same does not apply for defendants in deportation proceedings, regardless of their age or other circumstances. But supporters of immigrant rights strongly believe that there should be an exception for young children.
Ahilan Arulanantham, who is not only representing the boy but who is also the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, has said that he will request a review of the court’s ruling. He further said that the decision means that defenseless and vulnerable children would have to go up against highly trained government attorneys in immigration hearings, and that this would lead to the deportation of countless children to dangerous countries.
What the Circuit Court panel didn’t say in their “narrow” ruling is whether an unaccompanied immigrant child would have a right to a court-appointed attorney in an immigration hearing. Judge John Owens, who is on the panel and who ruled against the boy, said that if such a case came before the panel, the panel might rule differently.
The U.S. Department of Justice has yet to comment on the ruling, which has come just as the Trump Administration is attempting to make changes to deportation proceedings, so as to speed them up.