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HRW: failure to appoint counsel for migrant children violates international law

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday announced the filing of an amicus brief in a US federal court arguing that the failure of US government officials to appoint lawyers to represent migrant children facing deportation violates their basic rights under international law. HRW joined [HRW press release] with the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and a leading national firm to draft the brief in the case of JEFM v. Lynch [ACLU case backgrounder], a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of children against the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The compliant alleges violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act [DHS backgrounder] that require a fair and full hearing before an immigration judge. In its brief, HRW notes there is no right to legal representation for indigents in immigration proceedings. HRW argues that the DOJ began "fast-tracking" deportation cases in immigration courts in 2014, and in the majority of cases children without an attorney are deported after a single hearing. HRW argues that children lack the mental capacity to represent themselves and they must be appointed counsel to ensure due process in deportation proceedings.

The rights of migrant populations has emerged as one of the most significant humanitarian issue around the world. Earlier this month the Court of Justice of the EU ruled [JURIST report] that Germany may place "residence conditions" on refugees. Also in March, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana blocked [JURIST report] Governor Mike Pence's order keeping Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana originally filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration in November after Pence announced his plans to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state as well as assistance from state agencies. In February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed "serious concern" at the recent adoption of security measures by several European countries [JURIST report] by joint agreement. Also in February, US District Court Judge David Godbey rejected a lawsuit seeking to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees by government officials in Texas. The federal judge ruled that Texas officials had failed to show a "substantial threat of irreparable injury" [JURIST report] in the request for an injunction to stop further Syrian refugee resettlement.

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