Justice Department Should Support Counsel for Children
New York City – Human Rights First today said that the Obama Administration’s statements regarding the consequences of requiring counsel for immigrant minors, made before a federal court in Seattle on Wednesday, are mischaracterizations that put at risk many children who have fled violence and persecution. In opposing a preliminary injunction, a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney claimed that requiring counsel for children would lead to an array of problems and would leave the border “completely open for children under 18.”
“These kinds of inaccuracies and scare tactics have no place in what should be a serious discussion about the right of children to legal counsel in proceedings that have life and death consequences,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Instead, the Obama Administration should fully support counsel for children.”
Last March during a congressional hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out strongly for the need for representation for immigrant children. In his comments, he noted that that it went against American ideals for children to not have access to counsel while immigration decisions were being handed down. The statements of the DOJ attorney on Wednesday undermine the administration’s stated commitment to legal counsel and due process.
Recent data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that not only do a majority of children attend their immigration proceedings, but that a higher percentage – 90 percent or more – attend when represented by lawyers. Multiple studies have documented that immigrants who are represented by counsel are more likely to succeed in their asylum or immigration proceedings.
“All children and asylum seekers should be represented by counsel in their immigration removal and asylum proceedings,” Acer stressed. “ Representation by counsel sends a message that the United States respects the rule of law while opposing counsel for these vulnerable populations sends the message that the United States is willing to abandon due process and its commitment to protecting the persecuted in the interests of political expediency.”