The New York Times reported today that children as young as six years old are being made to appear in U.S. immigration courts on their own, without their parents or any legal representation, for deportation proceedings.
Seems absurd, doesn’t it? Even well-educated adults have a hard time navigating our labrynthine immigration system without assistance. Yet the U.S. government does not provide legal representation for immigration courts, the way it does for criminal courts. And there’s no exception for undocumented children who are facing deportation. Nonprofit legal aid organizations try to help, but the need for immigration lawyers far exceeds their capacity.
So we have children like Juan David Gonzales, age 6, being questioned directly by an immigration judge about charges they can barely understand. In Juan’s case, the judge told him and the other children in the courtroom, “If you do not have a lawyer, you need to be able to speak for yourselves at the next hearing.”
What? A six-year-old child can’t prepare a meal, open a bank account, buy Tylenol or mail a letter without an adult’s help. Yet our laws put children in the untenable position of being their own advocates in immigration court. This is not only cruel, unfair, and completely lacking in compassion–it is ridiculous.