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US government sued for failing to appoint counsel to children facing deportation

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project [advocacy websites], in conjunction with Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP [firm websites] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website] on behalf of eight undocumented immigrant children facing deportation proceedings from the US without court-appointed representation. The complaint alleges that the US Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement [official websites] violate the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment due process clause and provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act [text] requiring a "full and fair hearing" before an immigration judge by failing to appoint counsel to children facing deportation. The groups seek to expand the suit into a class-action lawsuit [press release] on behalf of all children currently facing deportation proceedings without appointed counsel.

There have been many recent developments surrounding US immigration law [JURIST backgrounder], which has been a controversial subject over the past several years. In June the Obama administration [official website] announced that it would boost the ranks of immigration judges, lawyers and asylum officers [JURIST report] to decrease the flow of undocumented children into the country. The decision was prompted in part by a US Supreme Court ruling earlier that month, which held that a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act does not automatically grant relief [JURIST report] to all aliens who qualify as "child" derivative beneficiaries at the time a visa petition is filed but age out of qualification by the time the visa becomes available to the primary beneficiary. In April the US Department of Justice released statistics [JURIST report] that show a steady decline in new deportation cases brought by the Obama administration in US immigration courts over the last five years, and that more judges have begun ruling against deportations. In November Obama issued a memorandum [JURIST report] giving US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the authority to "parole in place" the children, spouses and parents of active duty members of the armed forces, the selected reserve of the ready reserve and former members thereof. In October Obama signed into law [JURIST report] a bill granting special immigration status to Iraqis who have aided US forces.

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