Commentary

Our nation’s “stupid, stupid, stupid” immigration policy

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable exchange in a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday between Senator Patrick Leahy and Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the unbelievably absurd statement of federal immigration judge Jack Weil that three and four year-old children can be made to understand immigration law and represent themselves competently in deportation hearings. As the New York Times reports:

“I’ve never heard such a stupid, stupid, stupid thing,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on Wednesday. Mr. Leahy made it clear what he thought of that…

He hammered on the word “stupid” as if with a baseball bat.

Ms. Lynch was mild in reply. “I share with you your puzzlement over those statements,” she said. She added, “We do not take the view that children can represent themselves.”

She also noted that the Department of Justice isn’t required do anything about the problem. “The current law does not provide the right to counsel,” she said.

And here’s the Times editorial board in an excellent, if gentler, piece from Tuesday:

In this time of political absurdity, can it be any surprise that a federal immigration judge insists that toddlers can represent themselves in immigration court?

The judge, Jack Weil, did not appear to be joking when, in a deposition in a federal lawsuit, he told a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union: “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it….”

While federal law does not require that noncitizens be given government-appointed lawyers in immigration proceedings, it does require a “full and fair hearing” before a judge. Yet the administration argues that it has no constitutional obligation to provide counsel for children in immigration court and refuses to acknowledge the injustice of having children too young to understand the legal process fending for themselves in deportation hearings.

The result would be farcical were it not also tragic, because these children face grave danger, if not violent death, in being returned to their home countries.

The editorial goes on top urge the Obama administration to act since, as is always the case, immigrant and Obama-hating conservatives in Congress aren’t likely to:

…the Obama administration needs to act, now, to ensure that children receive a fair day in court.

It could start by reordering the immigration docket to give children and guardians more time to find lawyers. Lawyers with advocacy groups are striving to meet the need, but the caseload is crushing. “There’s a lot of government money being spent now” to represent unaccompanied children, said Ahilan Arulanantham, an A.C.L.U. lawyer involved in the Seattle case. The government could proceed against children who have counsel, he said, “and push to the back of the line those who don’t.”

These children and their lawyers could also pursue remedies outside immigration court — for example, in seeking special visas for victims of human trafficking and other crimes. There should never be a rush to push children who are alone through a process that doesn’t begin to resemble justice.

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