Citing in part financial burdens to an already stressed immigration system, an appeals court ruled Monday that immigrant children are not entitled to government-sponsored legal representation when they face deportation.
The judges rejected a claim by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant groups that children have a constitutional due process right to a free attorney.
A system already exists to give the children a fair hearing, and requiring the government to provide free attorneys would be an expense that would "strain an already overextended immigration system," a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director at the ACLU of Southern California, said the court did not disagree that having an attorney greatly improves a child's ability to navigate complex immigration law.
"The statistical evidence, which the court acknowledged, is that children are many, many times more likely to win their cases if they have legal representation," he said.
Regardless, Ninth Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan said the process currently in place is sufficient.
An immigration judge is required to fully and fairly ascertain and assess all the facts in the case, not just act as a neutral arbiter, according to Callahan. An appeals panel can send cases back to immigration judges if they fail to perform that duty.