Defending the right to representation
Every year, thousands of immigrant children are detained by the INS. Alone, unable to speak English, they are detained in juvenile detention centers while immigration officials go through the process of having them deported. Some of the children were escaping poverty, physical abuse, war and sexual exploitation to seek freedom in America.
The Center sued the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2002 to get legal help for indigent immigrant children. The groundbreaking lawsuit was designed to secure the right of unaccompanied immigrant children to have lawyers appointed to represent them in deportation proceedings. The Center contended that refusing to provide lawyers to represent the children violated their due-process rights.
The federal judge agreed that lawyers argued a compelling case and that the children were indeed vulnerable. Nevertheless, the court dismissed the complaint, holding that illegal aliens do not have a constitutional right to have lawyers appointed to represent them in civil proceedings.
The novel lawsuit was co-counseled with lawyers from Northwest Immigrants Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services. The named plaintiff was Marcos Gonzalez Machado, a 15-year-old Mexican orphan. After languishing in an American juvenile detention center for several months, he accepted voluntary deportation and returned to Mexico.