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Lawsuit: Should the Government Provide Lawyers for Kids Facing Deportation?

A federal judge in Seattle heard arguments Friday in a potentially far-reaching immigration case. At issue is whether children who face deportation alone are entitled to an attorney, at the government’s expense. KUOW’s Liz Jones reports.


There’s a rising trend of children coming alone to the U.S., unlawfully crossing the southern border. Most are from Mexico and Central America. They’re often called ‘unaccompanied minors’.

Matt Adams is with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle. He says these minors face a complex legal system to decide their fate. And few can afford an attorney.

Adams: “It’s no surprise that results show that unrepresented children come out on the short end of the stick. And if you compare that to the cases where kids have attorney, there’s a huge difference in the amount of cases where kids are able to prevail.”

Adams says its unlikely children can get a fair hearing without a lawyer’s help.

Last year, Adams’ group and several others filed a federal lawsuit to require government-appointed attorneys for these kids.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly heard arguments on the government’s motion to dismiss the case. Zilly’s questions focused on his jurisdiction to decide this broad issue, and how kids are handled in immigration court.

Government attorneys argued safeguards are in place to help these minors navigate the system. But the judge commented it would take the equivalent of a “Doogie Howser” child genius to figure it all out.

It’s unclear how soon the judge will rule to either dismiss the case, or allow it to move forward. I’m Liz Jones, KUOW News.