Heartless: Even three-year-olds are forced to represent themselves in immigration court in US
Under US law, children arrested for illegally entering the country don’t have the right to demand a court-appointed lawyer or interpreter.
It seems absolutely absurd, but in several cases in the United States, migrant children as young as three are being called to immigration courts without their parents or even any lawyers.
A short film made by filmmaker Linda Freedman for the nonprofit Immigration Counseling Service recreates the heartbreaking reality of such courtrooms, with children as young as three or four years old being forced to represent themselves on matters like deportation. Unaccompanied: Alone in America (above) is adapted from real court transcripts and conversations with lawyers, immigration service workers and more.
“In recent years the number of unaccompanied immigrant children migrating to the United States has nearly tripled and they have no representation or legal counsel, leaving them vulnerable and alone,” said Freedman.
According to a 2016 Univision data report, more than nine out of ten children who appear alone in immigration court are deported, whereas nearly half of those who are represented by a lawyer are allowed to remain. Unfortunately, under US law, children arrested for illegally entering the country don’t have the right to demand a court-appointed lawyer or interpreter.
Freedman wrote that she was “stunned at the obstacles they faced alone, and the disregard for their basic rights.” She envisioned a film that would galvanise the public, energise and rouse professionals like lawyers and translators who would want to help, and inspire action to help such unaccompanied children. “When one child hurts, we all hurt,” wrote Freedman, adding, “There is no such thing as other people’s children.”
Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles told Kaiser Health News, “We were representing a three-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child – in the middle of the hearing – started climbing up on the table...It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.”
Typically, parents are tried along with young children, but many children detained under the Donald Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy are facing immigration proceedings without their parents, putting them at a disadvantageous position.
The Independent reported that Jennifer Elzea, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson, directed questions to the Department of Justice. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the DoJ’s Communications and Legislative Affairs Division, confirmed that toddlers were appearing in court without their parents. “Executive Office for Immigration Review records show that there are respondents in removal proceedings who are juveniles, some as young as three-years-old, who do not currently have any attorney of record on file,” she said in a statement.
We’ll let John Oliver explain the rest of the matter to you, through a segment on Last Week Tonight: