A glimmer of hope for immigrant children has emerged in a relatively dark and messy period for American immigration and deportation policies. This June, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of Seattle has approved a class action lawsuit to determine whether impoverished children are entitled to lawyers during deportation hearings.
Brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration advocates, the case challenges the government’s failure to provide lawyers to children during deportation hearings.
A class action suit, or a representative action as some refer to it as, is a type of lawsuit in which one of the parties is a group of people who are represented collectively by a specific member of that group. In this case, the group of people represented is thousands of children throughout the West.
For years, the United States of America has encountered many cases in which minors are potentially eligible for asylum or citizenship but can't afford legal representation. Under current policies, the country has run on a system that Matt Adams says “pits unrepresented children against trained federal prosecutors.” Matt Adams, the legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, is highly involved in the lawsuit and has stated that under the ruling, the merits of the practice will be argued in a single case, and the government will have to defend an unjust system.
This lawsuit is coming late in the game, but it is needed now more than ever for the immigrant community. Since 2013, more than 7,000 immigrant children have been deported without appearing in court. What was originally a border crisis for the United States has now become a due process crisis. Wendy Young’s advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense, as well as many other advocacy groups, have been pushing for a system more supportive of minors when it comes to court proceedings.
While it is an alarming thought that America’s fundamental due process right has been repeatedly abused with regards to immigrant children, the class action suit is one of the first steps of many in improving immigration policy that has for a long time been due reformation.