U.S. Appeals Court Rejects Class Action Lawsuit Filed By Immigrant Kids

A federal appeals court panel in Seattle has ruled that immigrant children under the threat of deportation may not sue the government for legal representation as part of a class action. The ruling is a significant setback for the legal rights of immigrant minors.

A group of minors ranging in ages from 3 to 17, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups, filed a lawsuit two years ago arguing that the government should provide them with court-appointed lawyers. They claim their due process rights are being violated because they cannot adequately represent themselves in deportation hearings where they are opposed by government-trained attorneys.

Immigration judges, who work for the executive branch of the federal government, not the judiciary, do not have the power to appoint legal counsel for the children.

The government contested the lawsuit arguing that immigrant minors don’t have a constitutional right to government-provided legal counsel. In fact, the key witness for the government, longtime immigration judge Jack H. Weil, testified in a deposition that he could teach 3- and 4-year-olds all the immigration law they needed to represent themselves.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of Seattle ruled that the lawsuit could proceed as a class action. But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed that decision, ruling that such suits cannot move forward as a class action. The judges ruled that such claims must be filed individually and directly to the federal appeals court only after their deportation proceedings are concluded.

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