Thursday, July 19, 2018 | Updated at 6:34 PM ET


177-Group Coalition to Attorney General: Minors Need Legal Representation Now

First Posted: Apr 30, 2016 11:05 AM EDT
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U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border

Photo : John Moore/Getty Images


Photo : John Moore/Getty Images

A coalition of as many as 177 activists groups have joined forces in delivering the message to Attorney General Loretta Lynch that minors fleeing violence in their homelands must have legal representation.

Leaders from children's rights, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, medical, labor, education and immigrants' rights organizations all came together to deliver the declaration.

Senior Official Claims Minors Able to Defend Themselves in Immigration Court

The message comes just weeks after a senior Department of Justice (DOJ) official responsible for training immigration judges raised eyebrows by claiming he had taught children as young as three-years-old immigration law sufficiently enough that they could fairly represent themselves before a judge.

"If this is the way the Department of Justice does business, our legal system is clearly in trouble," said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan children's advocacy organization. "Worse yet, the youngest and most vulnerable children seeking refuge in the United States will continue being used as political pawns and deported to unspeakable danger and unfathomable consequences."

Just last year, Central America's Northern Triangle reported, 17,422 homicides, a death toll higher the violence-plagued countries of Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan combined.

"We know that for children fleeing violence, having a competent attorney can make a difference between life and death," added Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "Many children have suffered severe trauma, and have solid claims for asylum and humanitarian protection. Our government must ensure that all children in deportation hearings are provided counsel."

Fair Day in Court Act Would Guarantee Minors are Represented

In addition, 100 members of Congress recently came together in support of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, hailed as legislation mandating that legal counsel be provided for all unaccompanied children facing immigration hearings.

"The stakes could not be higher," said Lesley. "If the United States truly is the land of justice - a humane nation where we protect the most vulnerable, it's imperative that Attorney Lynch act to reflect those values. Children's lives depend on it."

Among the groups signing off on the letter to Lynch were the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, the Children's Defense Fund, Human Rights Watch, Kids In Need of Defense, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, MALDEF, NAACP, National Association of Evangelicals, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Council of La Raza, the National Education Association, the National Juvenile Justice Network, Sojourners, and World Relief.

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