The American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant children, saying they haven’t been provided with lawyers for deportation hearings in violation of the Constitution and immigration law.
The lawsuit comes as the Obama administration grapples with a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the border. President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress for an emergency $3.7 billion to increase detainment and court facilities to handle the children's cases. On Wednesday The administration today announced plans to provide more court and legal resources.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Seattle, the ACLU and other groups said the government is denying the children due process of law and the "full and fair hearing" before immigration judges required by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.
The law doesn't require the government to provide attorneys at the hearings, said Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU attorney in Los Angeles. The organizations are seeking a court order to change that.
The Justice Department's proposals to beef up legal resources for immigrants fall short of ensuring each child has a lawyer present at removal proceedings, he said. Law firms' free legal services help only a small fraction of the children who need legal representation, the ACLU said.
"The government provides an attorney in every case for itself," Arulanantham said.
The government will hire more immigration judges and expand legal assistance to people in removal proceedings, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The organizations represent minors who are in the country illegally, have lived here for years and are facing immigration proceedings, those suing said in a statement.
The children named as plaintiffs are scheduled to appear at deportation hearings without legal representation, they said. The lawsuit would also cover unaccompanied minors who entered the country.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the border this fiscal year though June 15, about double the number in a similar period in 2013, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Besides the ACLU, the children are represented by the American Immigration Council, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and the law firm K&L Gates, the Immigration Council said in a statement.
"Deportation carries serious consequences for children, whether it is return to a country they fled because of violence and persecution or being separated from their homes and families," Beth Werlin, deputy legal director for the Immigration Council, an advocacy group with offices in Washington, D.C., said in the statement.
Legal representation is "a basic protection most would assume is required whenever someone's liberty is at stake," she said.
Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the agency is reviewing the complaint.
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