Appeals Court Rules Undocumented Children Not Entitled to Government-Paid Lawyers in Deportation Hearings

In response to a case involving a teenage Honduran boy, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that undocumented immigrant children that come to the United States with their parents are not entitled to government-paid lawyers in deportation hearings. In all criminal cases in the United States, defendants are legally entitled to government-paid lawyers. However, that does not apply to immigration cases now. Judge John Owens did say that the ruling might not apply to unaccompanied minors.

It might seem logical for the government to not provide defense attorneys to undocumented immigrants. Perhaps it is a conflict of interest for the government to pay an attorney to defend someone that came to the country illegally. That is not the case.

Here’s a response to the argument about it being a “conflict of interest” for the government to pay an attorney to defend someone that immigrated illegally. Let’s say someone in the United States commits a crime and there is no doubt that specific person committed it. Let’s say that they did not try to hide their identity at all, and they were arrested at the scene of the crime. Would you still provide them with a lawyer if they chose to go to trial? Or would you just send them to jail? Of course, you would provide them with a lawyer. To not do so is against our very constitution. How can we claim to want freedom and equality for all people if we do not even treat them equally to ourselves?

That argument doesn’t even begin to dive into the demographics of undocumented immigrants. Many, if not most, undocumented immigrants cannot afford the high expenses that come with a private defense attorney. These undocumented immigrants come to our country looking for better opportunities for themselves and their families. To force them to walk into a deportation hearing without any knowledge of our justice system is anti-American.

My grandmother came from Hungary to the United States during the Cold War. She lived in a refugee camp in Western Europe before she came to America. She came legally as a refugee, and the United States offered her citizenship since she was from a country that was going through a revolution. She was twenty-six, and it took her five years to gain her citizenship. As the granddaughter of an immigrant, how could I look down on anyone who is just trying to get a better opportunity to live, that is just trying to escape war, that is just trying to escape poverty, that is just trying to give their family a better life? Even if they are undocumented immigrants, we must provide them with the same opportunities that we have, or else we aren’t any better than any other country.

Many people that openly believe America is the greatest country in the world are stuck in the past. The America that they believe in is the America of the past, the America that protected white men and discriminated against everyone else. They believe that anyone who goes against our laws doesn’t deserve freedom, doesn’t deserve equality, doesn’t deserve anything that the United States has to offer. I disagree.

America is so beautiful because we were founded by a bunch of people who broke the laws of the British government. We stood up for what we knew was right, for things that we knew we deserved. And we, those who were some of the poorest that England had to offer, won against the British Empire. And over time, we have protested and fought against discrimination and injustice. The most beautiful moments in our history are made up of people that were dedicated to fighting for the rights of those who have been discriminated against. Those are the moments that make the United States the greatest country in the world, not some perfect fairytale that we like to imagine in which racism ended after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Do you want to say that the United States is the greatest country in the world? Then we have to make it that way. We have to offer equal rights for everyone that comes into our country, not just people that some people believe are worthy of the United States’ greatness. Not just people that you don’t like. The United States is so beautiful because it is embedded in our political culture that everyone in the world is born with inalienable rights, not just Americans. And if we truly believe that, then we need to offer those rights to everyone. We cannot be selfish with equality. It is not our job to determine what people are worthy of equal treatment. We must simply provide it without any desire to be repaid. The greatest countries in the world are not great because of their gross domestic product or what innovations they have made or if they are a world superpower or not. The kindness, genuine empathy make them the best countries in the world. The way they treat others is what makes them the best countries in the world. And if we can’t provide children from Honduras who are facing gang threats asylum, or even provide them with a government-paid lawyer for their deportation hearing, how can we even consider ourselves to be the greatest country in the world?


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