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Top Immigration Judge Thinks Toddlers Can Represent Themselves

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 07, 2016 2:59 PM

One of the top Immigration Judges in the nation recently stated under oath that he'd taught immigration law to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds well enough to ensure that they got a fair hearing, satisfying due process in immigration court. Sound a little crazy?

A long-time immigration official for the Executive Office for Immigration review, Jack H. Weil's comments shine a light on the issue of whether or not children who unwittingly break United States' immigration laws should be entitled to publicly-funded attorney representation.

Not Just Any Judge

Jack H. Weil is an assistant chief immigration judge for EOIR's Office of the Chief Immigration Judge -- the top agency overseeing policy of the various 58 United States Immigration Courts. As such, his influence is substantial.

Stakes Are High

Weil's statements were made while he was being deposed by an attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. The case is near the center of a legal battle in which the ACLU is seeking the government to require appointed legal counsel to every indigent child who cannot afford legal counsel in immigration proceedings.

The deputy director of the ACLUSC Ahilan Arulanantham said that he thought the judge had just misspoken, but it was clear that the judge meant what he said. Academics have also reacted negatively to Weil's comments. Laurence Steinberg of Temple University said that "It's preposterous, frankly, to think that [3 and 4 year olds] could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court."

But in such hearings, children generally face the same types of immigration charges and penalties as adults.

On the Defense

The Justice Department has defended against the ACLU on two fronts: financial and legal. To provide every indigent child with legal counsel would be a "potentially enormous taxpayer expense," according to the government. Additionally, it argues that nothing in the Constitution entitles minors to legal counsel in immigration court.

Even so, given that children must suffer consequences as stiff as their adult counterparts, fairness demands that the same children at least be given the opportunity to understand and comprehend the consequences of their answers in court.

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