Judge Jack Weil believes so, according to The Christian Science Monitor. The Virginia-based judge has said in support of the US government’s position that "unaccompanied migrant youths don’t need attorneys in immigration court."
"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," Judge Weil said. "They get it. It's not the most efficient, but it can be done."
Most legal profession do not agree.
“They are just completely disoriented, and they are in the middle of their trauma,” immigration lawyer Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch told the Huffington Post. “Their singular focus is ‘Where’s my mommy and how will I get back to her?’ So all of this other business is almost irrelevant, when, in fact, a lot of these people are fleeing violence, and if they get sent back they could be killed. And yet the child can’t focus on that.”
At the hearings, a judge will ask the children basic questions ― name, date of birth, home country ― and whether they admit or deny allegations, such as if they crossed the border illegally. Children who go through this process without parents or a lawyer have to describe why a situation back home is so bad that they shouldn’t be deported. If successful, they can apply for asylum or other forms of relief.
Kimi Jackson, the director of ProBAR, an organization that provides legal assistance to immigrants, said that in some cases migrant kids are so young that they might not know their parents’ names or be able to speak. But even if they can talk, most children who go through the court system on their own have no idea what is happening. In 2016, Lincoln-Goldfinch filmed a mock deportation hearing with her 3-year-old child to protest a California judge who said kids should be able to represent themselves in immigration court. When she asked, “What defense to deportation are you seeking?” her daughter responded, “Hide and seek.”
The confusion is even worse for children who have fled violence at home only to be separated from their parents upon arriving in the U.S. Mary Lehman Held, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Tennessee, says these children’s brains are stuck in “fight, flight or freeze mode” due to extreme stress, which makes it hard for them to remember information. Elissa Steglich, a clinical professor in the University of Texas School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, thinks the fact that their developing brains are experiencing layers of trauma means “it will be particularly challenging if not impossible to get a full story from many of these children.”
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