Pasadena, CA — On Wednesday, September 19, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided it would hear a case to decide whether the government may deport children who appear in court without a lawyer. The court took the rare step of withdrawing an earlier decision by three judges, and said an eleven-judge panel, sitting en banc, would reconsider the case. See order dated September 19, 2018, withdrawing C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, 880 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2018).
The case is brought on behalf of C.J.L.G, who had just turned fifteen years old when an Immigration Judge ordered him deported after being forced to appear in court without an attorney. C.J.L.G. is requesting that the federal appeals court order the government to appoint him counsel and give him a new hearing.
The en banc court will hold arguments on the case the week of December 10, 2018. The petition for review and petition for rehearing en banc were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP.
C.J.L.G. was only thirteen years old when he fled with his mother from his native country of Honduras after being threatened at gunpoint that he would be killed if he did not join the local gang. They were apprehended shortly after crossing the border and C.J.L.G was placed alone in removal proceedings as his mother was placed in separate removal proceedings. While the immigration judge extended his court proceedings for a few months to allow him time to find an attorney, C.J.L.G. and his mother did not have the money to hire an attorney. The immigration judge then moved forward with the case, denied his application for asylum and ordered him removed.
On appeal, C.J.L.G. argued that as an unrepresented child it was impossible for him to get a fair hearing, including a meaningful opportunity to apply for asylum and present an application for special immigrant juvenile visa. He asked the federal court of appeals to order that he be appointed legal representation. In its original decision, issued in January of this year, the Court ruled that it would not "upend Congress's statutory scheme" by requiring appointed counsel, even for children who have no other access to legal representation.
Yesterday's order withdrew that opinion. After arguments in December, the Court will issue a new ruling that could dramatically affect the lives of thousands of children who are forced to defend themselves before the immigration courts.
"Now more than ever it is essential that the Court clarifies whether it is fair for unrepresented children to be forced to stand alone in front of an immigration judge, opposed by a federal prosecuting attorney," said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. "C.J.LG.'s case vividly demonstrates the plight such children face when they have no legal representation."
"The Government's refusal to provide lawyers to children facing deportation remains one of the most serious human rights abuses of our time," says Ahilan Arulanantham, for the ACLU of Southern California. "We look forward to continuing our struggle for justice for CJLG and other children who have sought refuge in this country."
"C.J.L.G. should never have had to face a judge and prosecuting attorney alone," said Talia Inlender, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney at Public Counsel, "he, like all children, deserves a fair day in court with a lawyer by his side. We are pleased that the en banc court will review this critical issue."