By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Children illegally brought to the United States with their parents have no constitutional right to a court-appointed lawyer to represent them in U.S. immigration proceedings, according to a federal appellate ruling issued on Monday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, upheld a deportation order against a Honduran boy who fled gang violence with his mother and who appeared in immigration court without a lawyer.
The ruling comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking changes to immigration court proceedings in order to speed up deportations.
Criminal defendants in U.S. courts are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer at the government’s expense. However, immigrants fighting deportation generally do not have a similar constitutional right.
Immigrant rights advocates have criticized the U.S. government for conducting deportation proceedings against very young children, without lawyers for the immigrant present.
A three-judge 9th Circuit panel ruled on Monday, however, that Congress had not extended the right of free counsel to minors such as the Honduran boy, who arrived in the United States aged 13 in 2014.
Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California who represents the boy, said they would seek a review of the decision. The court ruling would allow the government “to pit trained prosecutors against children fleeing persecution,” he said.
“If permitted to stand, it will result in the deportation of thousands of vulnerable children to some of the most violent places on earth,” Arulanantham said.
In a separate concurrence, Judge John Owens called the court’s ruling “narrow” because it did not say whether minors who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied by their parents have the right to a court-appointed lawyer.
“That is a different question that could lead to a different answer,” he wrote.
Representatives for the U.S. Department of Justice could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Rosalba O’Brien)