2018-07-11 / Editorial


Michael N. Searles

There are times and this seems to be one of them when words lose their meaning. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it. Some of us have appeared before a judge and been asked, “Do you understand your rights?” We answered the question in the affirmative generally saying we realize we could be represented by an attorney, have a jury trial or appear before a judge. Let’s, just for fun, say that your child had a confrontation in Nursery School and instead of the teacher or supervisor handling the matter, they referred it to court. Of course, you would be astonished, but if you also were told that you, the parent, could not represent your toddler and neither could a lawyer. The judge then stated that your little child would represent himself of herself. You probably could not stop laughing until you understood that the judge was serious. Children are not allowed to vote, hold property, consent to medical treatment, sue or be sued, or enter into certain types of contracts. In some cases, a child is able to do these things but must have a parent or legal guardian act on his or her behalf. Even if this is the case, what if the judge says “I believe that children as young as 3 years old can be taught to understand the law and represent themselves.” A judge who said that would seem to be crazy in the eyes of many people. However, a federal immigration judge insists that toddlers are capable of defending themselves in court. Veteran immigration Judge Jack H. Weil said in his sworn testimony presented at a federal court in Oregon that even toddlers are able to learn enough of the intricacies of immigration law to appear in court without the help of an attorney. He went on to say, “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. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.’’ This tells us much of what we need to know about where the immigration system is today. Immigration violations are handled outside of the federal court system. Accused offenders don’t automatically receive legal representation, and there are no universal, taxpayerfunded public defenders in the immigration system. Immigrants instead can find and pay for their own attorneys or rely on the help from organizations that provide pro bono services. The ripple effects have led to the largest immigration court backlog ever recorded. Judges, faced with lawyer-less children, often turned cases away to offer more time for families to find representation. With the delays, the backlog grows. There are 474,025 cases currently pend- ing in the immigration courts. While cases involving unaccompanied minors are on an expedited track, all others face an average of 667 days to resolve, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, run by Syracuse University. A few days ago District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to reunite all the migrant families it has separated. There are 2,047 children that must be placed in the same facility as their parents within the next two to four weeks. The results reflect the ill-advised decision of the administration’s zero tolerance immigrant policy. The Trump administration may be forced to release entire families from custody since they will be in violation of the ruling that requires the government to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents within 14 days and all minors within 30 days.

This may be the reason President Trump wants to deny immigrants coming to our southern border due process. On Twitter the President said we should skip court hearings for immigrants who cross the border without authorization and immediately deport them. Apparently, we should get rid of due process when it applies to certain people. Basic American values tossed aside by the President who has little or no respect for the Constitution and our time honored traditions. We are seated on a runaway train to parts unknown. Hopefully, when the train stops we still have a democracy.

Return to top