Children Facing U.S. Deportation Allowed to Sue for Lawyers

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A group of unaccompanied immigrant children who face deportation from the U.S. can proceed with a lawsuit to have government-paid lawyers represent them at their removal hearing.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle on Monday denied the government’s bid to throw out the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of the juveniles, saying the case can proceed over an alleged violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process.

The “question plaintiffs have raised in this case is far too important to consign it, as defendants propose, to the perhaps perpetual loop of the administrative and judicial review process,” Zilly said in his ruling. “A fundamental precept of due process is that individuals have a right to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.”

Tens of thousands of children, most from Central America, are caught crossing the border, with many being taken into custody by the refugee division of the Department of Health & Human Services, housed in shelters and sent to live with family members or sponsors while immigration judges consider whether they can stay. That process that can take more than a year.

The lawsuit in Seattle was brought on behalf of a Salvadoran boy and his siblings who fled their country after gang members threatened to harm them unless they joined, ACLU attorneys said in court filings.

His father, a former gang member, ran a rehabilitation center for people leaving gangs and was murdered several years ago in front of the family’s home while the boy and his siblings watched, according to ACLU lawyers. Their mother left the country after continued threats from gangs.

The children entered the U.S. in July 2013, were caught by border patrol officials and later released to a family member. They have been living in Washington state.

The case is J.E.F.M. v. Holder, 14-cv-01026, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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