Children Facing Deportation Have No Right to Legal Aid, Court Rules

One of the most important protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights entails the safeguarding of an individual’s legal rights: trial by jury, right to confront one’s accuser and, among others, the right to legal representation. For those without the financial means, it falls to the state to provide a lawyer. However, a federal court recently made an unprecedented ruling that weakens this guarantee for some people — namely, those who are among the most vulnerable.

At age 13, Honduran boy known as CJ fled to the United States after continually being pressured to join a violent gang. He faced physical coercion, and his resistance was putting his life — and those of his family — in danger.

Once in the U.S., CJ was compelled to seek legal status or else face deportation — and almost certain death. This process came to a head two years later when CJ was told he had not satisfactorily demonstrated his eligibility for asylum status in immigration court.

Of course, this should surprise no one — CJ, at just 15, was made to serve as his own legal representation. How many teenagers know the nuances of immigration and asylum law? Not many, to be sure.

CJ’s situation spurred a challenge to the asylum ruling, predicated on the idea that it is absurd to force a minor to play lawyer during what might be the most crucial legal matter of their life. So naturally, when a panel from the Ninth Circuit ruled on CJ’s fate, they did so rationally and compassionately, right? Not quite.

Instead, the three-judge panel came to a startling decision: Undocumented immigrant minors do not have a right to legal representation. Yes, that’s right — per this ruling, even a toddler could be trotted out before a judge in a courtroom to defend him or herself from being deported.

It doesn’t take a legal scholar to see that this decision goes well beyond the pale of common sense. How can a modern, civilized nation fail to take issue with such a blatant mockery of justice?

This decision is cruel and unusual. It’s not hard to see it as a very deliberate attack on immigrants. After all, any other minor who has a run in with the law — be it for truancy or vandalism — is guaranteed legal representation in court, regardless of the circumstances. But now, thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court, residency status matters are exempted from this.

Not only is the ruling draconian in nature, it also will also likely have an effect that Americans on both sides of the immigration debate will agree is undesirable. Not only will CJ be the first undocumented minor to be affected by this ruling, but dozens of thousands of other children also face a similar fate.

A cooling effect will likely follow, with undocumented minors having little reason to have faith in immigration courts; instead of trying to achieve legal status by going through the proper procedure, hiding as an undocumented resident may seem the safer option.

Take Action!

Forcing a minor — or anyone, for that matter — to stand trial, especially when it comes to residency status and the prospect of deportation, is simply unacceptable. It is an attack on the most vulnerable individuals from an already marginalized group.

This is why CJ’s case cannot come to an end with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. If you would like to see this case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, then please add your name to this Care2 petition!

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!

Photo Credit: Molly Adams/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson11 months ago

Thank you.

Past Member 11 months ago


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga11 months ago


Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx12 months ago

@ Megan S : Shame on you !! So, as far as you are concerned, ALL under an estimated 10 years must be send home. It's sometimes difficult to see what age a Mexican has. But be honest, You can't see a 13 year old is NOT 21 ??? STAY AWAKE ! You rather like to pay more taxes to expand the military. Bunch of evil devils...

@ Brian F : So happy I don't life in the U.S. You rather pay a lot more taxes to upgrade the military. Then you can send even more people over to these countries, and as they have no place to go to, you can all bomb them. Problem solved !! Easy or not ?? How can you be so horrible. If America can not allow a certain percentage of refugees, and China and Japan are full as an egg, do you think that we, Europeans can take them all. Most people who are fleeing their countries because of war situations, will return to their countries once the wars are over. But then you must give them the possibility to return, which you have NOT done in the past. You have bombed all down to the floor, and then left !! G.R.E.A.T. !!

@ Paul B : just put him against the wall and shoot him. I think his suffering will be far less then. Just a matter of 10 minutes ??

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx12 months ago

If this was not in U.S.A. with Fuhrer Trumpf, nobody would believe this. How can a teen, of just 15 years defend himself at Court, without assistance from a lawyer.
The worst criminal, who can not afford a lawyer, gets one appointed by the State, to defend his rights, without having to pay 1 dollarcent.
This boy of 15 has no right to such lawyer, because he is a refugee. If this boy has to stand before the Judge, without any help from a legal aid counsel, this is the beginning of a massive cleaning up operation of all immigrants. OR to put it more correctly THIS IS GENOCIDE !!!!!!!!!! Recently a man, having lived in the U.S. for over 35 years, was sent back to Mexico, leaving his wife & children in the U.S.. Well done Fuhrer Trumpf !! Your government spits on dictators, killing innocent people. Your way of working is even WORSE. Sending back poor innocent children to their country, where they face certain death, is HUMANE ?? My God, we knew your mental health is not 100 %, but this decision is draconian, or you are TOTALLY INSANE.
And what about children of 8 or 10 or 14 years. Will you also treat them this way. I really hope that both Democrats and Republicans will have a massive, global strike over all 50 States, block all roads, airports, etc.. and this as long as necessary, viz. till the Ninth Circuit Ruling is DELETED !!

Marija M
Marija M12 months ago

tks for sharing - poor children ...

Past Member 12 months ago


Sabrina D
Past Member 12 months ago

I've just signed the petition.

RONALD Walkerabout a year ago

I am not sure what to write here. There are major problems and what we need is better leadership from our so-called president and Congress. Passing the buck is what the Republican leadership is doing and does very well at. This problems all started when Reagan cut birth control to Central America. Women having control over when and how many babies they wanted. Then there was a population boom in Central America and people are staving. For myself my thinking. Republicans can't think 2 months or 2 weeks ahead as to 10 to 30 years ahead. That is the real problem.