Joint letter to U.S. Attorney General re deporting children without counsel, April 2016
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April 29, 2016 The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch Attorney General of the United States U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20530 Dear Attorney General Lynch: We, the undersigned 177 children’s rights, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, and immigrants’ rights organizations and legal service providers, write to express our strong objections to the government’s ongoing practice of pursuing deportation proceedings against children who do not have counsel. We urge you to halt this practice and to guarantee that every child facing deportation is provided a lawyer. Every day the government brings children into immigration court where they are forced to defend themselves without counsel. Last month the Washington Post reported that a senior Department of Justice (“DOJ”) immigration official had stated in a deposition, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to three-year-olds and four-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done….You can do a fair hearing.” i This testimony came from the DOJ official charged with setting standards and policies for immigration courts and for training immigration judges nationwide. This testimony represents the official DOJ policy and practice with respect to children in deportation proceedings. Every day in immigration courts throughout the country, children as young as toddlers are forced to appear for deportation hearings without legal representation. A system that deports children who do not have counsel is a system that is willing to sacrifice integrity and justice in the name of expediency. Children, by definition, lack the competency to represent themselves in court proceedings. Most children appearing in immigration court do not speak English and have no understanding of any legal system. Moreover, many immigrant children are fleeing lethal violence in their home countries and have strong claims for asylum and humanitarian protection. For these children, an attorney can be a matter of life and death. ii In nearly three quarters of cases where children had legal representation, the immigration judge decided to allow the child to remain in the U.S. iii Given these high stakes, it is essential that the government appoint counsel for all children facing deportation. They are the most vulnerable in our midst. Our humanity and sense of justice demand nothing less. 1 We thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this urgent issue. We would greatly appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this further. Please do not hesitate to contact Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, at email@example.com or (202) 657-0672; or Linda Hartke, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, at LHartke@lirs.org or (410) 230-2762. Sincerely, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) The Advocates for Human Rights Alianza Americas Alliance San Diego American Academy of Pediatrics American Civil Liberties Union American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) American Gateways American Immigration Council American Immigration Lawyers Association American Psychological Association Americans for Immigrant Justice America's Voice Education Fund Amnesty International USA Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Los Angeles Austin Jewish Voice for Peace Border Action Network Border Network for Human Rights Boston College Law School Immigration Clinic Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition Casa de Esperanza (New Jersey) casa michoacan Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc Center for Community Change Central American Resource Center Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) DC Central American Resource Center-LA Central New York-Cajibio, Colombia Sister Community Child Welfare League of America Children's Defense Fund Children's National Health System Christ United Methodist Ministry Center Church of the Nazarene Church World Service COALICION DE LIDERES LATINOS-CLILA Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) 2 Coalition for Juvenile Justice Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice Community Development Initiatives Community for Children Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto Cornell Asylum and Convention Against Torture Clinic Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Detention Watch Network Dolores Street Community Services Dreamers' Moms Durango Unido en Chicago El Centro Hispano Espoir, Inc. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Farmworker Justice First Focus The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) Florida Institutional Legal Services Project of Florida Legal Services frebimich Friends Committee on National Legislation Friends of Broward Detainees Frontera de Salud, San Antonio Chapter Fun Zone Reading Club 4 Homeless Kids GA Not1More Deportation Coalition Georgia Detention Watch Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights The Global Immersion Project Greater Lawrence Family Health Center HealthRight International HIAS Human Rights Defense Center Human Rights First Human Rights Watch Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Imagination Stage Immigrant Defense Project Immigrant Justice Corps Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota Immigrant Law Group PC Immigrant Legal Resource Center Innovation Law Lab Interfaith Center for Worker Justice of San Diego County Interfaith Coalition on Immigration, MN ISAAC 3 Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans Jewish Voice for Peace--Portland, OR Chapter Justice for Families Justice Strategies Kids in Need of Defense Kino Border Initiative Korean Churches for Community Development Latin America Working Group Latino Commission on AIDS Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Leadership Conference of Women Religious League of United Latin American Citizens Legal Services for Children LOS PADRES de BLAIR Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service MAAC MALDEF Mundo Maya Foundation NAACP National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) National Association of Evangelicals National Council of La Raza (NCLR) National Education Association National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference National Immigrant Justice Center National Immigrant Solidarity Network National Immigration Forum National Immigration Law Center National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild National Juvenile Justice Network National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights National Women's Law Center Nazarene Centro de Refugio New Mexico Pediatric Society North County Immigration Task Force North Georgia Immigrant Justice Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Ohana Partners, The Navigators Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Rights Pennsylvania Immigration Services Center (PIRC) Philadelphia Southasian Collective Polaris Project South Proyecto Azteca 4 Proyecto Juan Diego Public Counsel Reformed Church of Highland Park Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Resurrection Catholic Church Safe Passage Project San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium San Diego Organizing Project San Juan Bautista School of Medicine School Social Work Association of America SEIU FL The Sentencing Project Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Sisters of Mercy South Central Community Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community The Sisters of the Mercy of the Americas, Institute Justice Team SOA Watch Sojourners Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) Southeast Immigrant Rights Network Southern Border Communities Coalition Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society Survivors of Torture, International Syracuse Peace Council Tahirih Justice Center Taos Refugee Advocacy Collective Texas Pediatric Society The 270 View The Door’s Legal Services Center Trans Queer Pueblo U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Unitarian Universalist Service Committee United Farm Workers United We Dream University of California San Francisco Department of Pediatrics University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic UnLocal, Inc. Virginia Organizing We Belong Together WeCount! Wilco Justice Alliance (Williamson County, TX) Women Watch Afrika, Inc. Women Working Together USA Women's Refugee Commission World Relief Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights at the University of Chicago 5 Youth Law Center Cc: Jeh Johnson, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security Sylvia Burwell, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services John King, Secretary, Department of Education Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Executive Office of the President, White House i Jerry Markon, Can a 3-year old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so., WASH. POST, Mar. 5, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/can-a-3-year-old-represent-herself-in-immigration-court-this-judgethinks-so/2016/03/03/5be59a32-db25-11e5-925f-1d10062cc82d_story.html; See also Transcript of Deposition of Hon. Jack H. Weil at 69-70, 161, J.E.F.M, et al. v. Lynch, et al., 2015 WL 9839679 (W.D. Wash. 2015), available at https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/honorable_jack_h._weil_mini.pdf. ii Sibylla Brodzinsky, Ed Pilkington, US government deporting Central American migrants to their deaths, THE GUARDIAN, Oct. 12, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/12/obama-immigration-deportations-central-america. iii TRANSACTIONAL RECORDS ACCESS CLEARINGHOUSE (“TRAC”), REPRESENTATION FOR UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN IN IMMIGRATION COURT (2014), available at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/371/. 6