Immigrant kids’ lawsuit rejected by appeals court

A Seattle-based federal appeals panel has ruled that immigrant minors facing deportation from the US cannot sue the government to provide them with legal representation in a class action. This move represents a major setback for immigrant minors and their legal rights.

Two years ago, several minors between the ages of three and 17, filed a lawsuit with the help of  immigrant rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. They argued that the government had a duty to provide court-appointed lawyers to immigrant minors. They claimed that they were unable to represent themselves when up against government-trained attorneys in deportation proceedings and that the imbalance was a violation of their due process rights.

Immigration judges do not have the power to appoint minors legal counsel as they work for the federal government’s executive branch rather than the judiciary. The lawsuit was contested by the US government, who argued that there is no constitutional right to the provision of legal counsel to immigrant minors.

The lawsuit was allowed to proceed as a class action earlier this year by Seattle US District Judge, Thomas Zilly. That decision was unanimously reversed by a three-judge panel from the US Circuit Court of Appeals. They ruled that such claims need to be filed directly and individually to the federal appeals court on conclusion of their deportation proceedings. The judges noted that their ruling was not based on the merits of the immigrant minors’ claims.