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Appointed Counsel for Children in Immigration Proceedings

Last Updated: 
Tue, May 12, 2015

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children, but does not guarantee that those children have legal representation. Like adults, children who cannot afford to hire an attorney or find pro bono counsel are forced to navigate the complex and adversarial immigration system on their own, even though the government is always represented by a trained attorney.



J.E.F.M. v. Holder

On July 9, 2014, the American Immigration Council, with co-counsel American Civil Liberties Union, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates LLP, filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on behalf of children who are challenging the federal government's failure to provide them with legal representation as it carries out removal proceedings against them.

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their immigration proceedings.

On April 13, 2015, the district court rejected key elements of the government’s motion to dismiss the case. Reasoning that “the due process question plaintiffs have raised in this case is far too important to consign it, as defendants propose, to the perhaps perpetual loop of the administrative and judicial review process,” the judge found that it had jurisdiction to determine whether the Constitution requires appointed counsel. However, the judge dismissed on jurisdictional grounds the claim that the immigration statute requires appointment of counsel and the claim for class-wide injunctive relief.  In addition, the court dismissed, without prejudice, the claims of three named plaintiffs.

The children who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are scheduled to appear in immigration court without any legal representation.

Press Releases

Highlights from Declarations


ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, The Rights of Children in the Immigration Process (Jul. 2014)

Women’s Refugee Commission, Step-by-Step Guide to the Apprehension and Detention of Juveniles in the United States (Jul. 2014)

KIND and Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System (Feb. 2014)

National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, Comprehensive Bibliography of resources on the right to counsel in immigration proceedings

Blog Posts on Immigration Impact: