April 29, 2016 LETTER — LIRS Sign On Letter to Attorney General Lynch

Press Contact: Miji Bell
MBell@lirs.org; 410-230-2841

Please refer to the full letter for the list of 177 organizations signed on to this letter.

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.”

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. 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.

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.

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 brucel@firstfocus.org or (202) 657-0672; or Linda Hartke, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, at LHartke@lirs.org or (410) 230-2762.