Moving forward on a lawsuit demanding legal representation for immigrant minors facing deportation could create a “magnet” effect at the border, attorneys for the federal government said.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Seattle heard arguments in a lawsuit filed in July by immigrant-rights advocacy groups, who say most minors in deportation proceedings lack legal representation, in violation of the Constitution. The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, say the minors are entitled to due process under the Fifth Amendment.
The government opposes the demand, saying it would attract more minors to travel to the U.S., among other concerns.
“It would create a magnet effect,” said Deputy Attorney General Leon Fresco, who added it would be unlikely Congress would give the money needed to provide legal representation.
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U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly did not rule Wednesday on the lawsuit brought on behalf of eight immigrant children. Three of the children have court hearings Thursday.
While the flow of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. southern border has decreased recently, the impact of the surge this summer has been felt around the country.
The surge overloaded several crossing points and detention centers, and sparked protests and political fights. In response, federal officials are fast-tracking court deportation proceedings for minors caught at the border.
“It is undeniable that thousands of kids are moving through this process and getting deported,” said Matt Adams of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of the plaintiffs, who range in age from 10 to 17 and are living in the Pacific Northwest and California. Several were fleeing violence in their countries, one reason behind the surge of tens of thousands of minors coming to the border, the lawsuit said.
Under federal law, the government is not required to provide attorneys for immigrants of any age facing deportation. However, immigrants can hire private attorneys or seek free legal representation.
“The right to counsel hasn’t been denied,” Fresco said.
Government attorneys also argued that the district court doesn’t have jurisdiction over this case.
In addition to requiring the government to provide minors with legal representation, the lawsuit also seeks class-action certification to include other immigrant children.
The judge decided not to rule from the bench on the class-action certification or on a preliminary injunction to halt the deportation hearings scheduled this week.