Court: Undocumented Youth Have No Right to Government-Paid Lawyer in Immigration Hearings
(by Julia Cheever) – A federal appeals court ruled in San Francisco on Monday that undocumented youth who enter the United States with family members are not entitled to a government-paid lawyer to contest their deportation.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision in the case of a Honduran youth identified as C.J., who entered the United States with his mother in 2014 when he was 13.
The youth said he and his family were given death threats and he was threatened at gunpoint when he refused to join the Mara gang. He had no lawyer when he asked an immigration judge to grant him asylum.
The immigration judge, whose decision was later upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals, denied asylum, saying the threats did not rise to the level of persecution because C.J. was not physically harmed.
In his appeal to the 9th Circuit, the youth, now represented by an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer for appeal purposes, argued that he didn’t have a fair hearing because he lacked a lawyer.
But the appeals court said that while minors have a right to constitutional due process in immigration hearings, and have a right to hire a private lawyer, they don’t have a right to a government-paid lawyer.
Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote that neither court precedents nor the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act require publicly paid attorneys for such hearings.
She wrote, “We sympathize with his personal plight, as C.J. appears to have displayed courage in the face of serious adversity.”
But “the law does not support his requested relief,” she said.
The panel said C.J. received adequate due process in the immigration hearing and it upheld the denial of his asylum request.
C.J.’s mother, who is in a separate removal proceeding, assisted him during his immigration hearings.
One of the judges, Circuit Judge John Owens, noted in a concurring opinion that the decision concerned minors accompanied by a family member and did not address whether unaccompanied minors may have a constitutional due process right to a lawyer.
“That is a different question that could lead to a different answer,” Owens wrote.