In immigration court, it is customary for the judge to confirm that the person whose case has come before the court understands the proceedings. But when Johan, from Honduras, appeared before Judge John Richardson, the judge was “embarrassed to ask.”Astrid Galvan, “Kids as Young as 1 in US Court, Awaiting Reunion with Family,” Associated Press, July 8, 2018. That’s because Johan was just a year old.Astrid Galvan, “Kids as Young as 1 in US Court, Awaiting Reunion with Family,” Associated Press, July 8, 2018.
Unlike many children—including toddlers—who appear in immigration court, Johan was lucky enough to have an attorney; something kids in deportation proceedings aren’t legally entitled to under Ninth Circuit precedent established in January.Astrid Galvan, “Kids as Young as 1 in US Court, Awaiting Reunion with Family,” Associated Press, July 8, 2018; and C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, 880 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2018). But the battle for children’s rights isn’t over: in September, the Ninth Circuit took the rare step of withdrawing that decision so that an 11-judge panel, sitting en banc, could consider the question.C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, No. 16-73801 (9th Cir. September 19, 2018) (order); and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, “Federal Appeals Court to Decide Whether Children Have a Right to Appointed Counsel in Deportation Hearings,” press release (Pasadena, CA: ACLU of Washington, September 21, 2018). In the meantime, children will continue to make complex legal decisions without counsel: five-year-old Helen from Honduras, who was taken from her asylum-seeking grandmother in July, signed a document in custody withdrawing her request to see a judge who could have released her to live with her family.Sarah Stillman, “The Five-Year-Old Who Was Detained at the Border and Persuaded to Sign Away Her Rights,” New Yorker, October 11, 2018.