Immigrant groups file suit to represent unaccompanied children crossing border

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The American Civil Liberties Union and a number of other immigration groups are suing the Justice Department to force the government to provide legal representation for the flood of child immigrants crossing the border. 

The class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday, in a federal court in Washington state, on behalf of eight children who are scheduled for deportation proceedings without representation. 

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The groups said the plaintiffs' stories are not unique in facing immigration proceedings alone, dealing with laws that "rival the Internal Revenue Code in its complexity."

"At the present time, legal service organizations representing immigrant children throughout the country have nowhere near the capacity to meet the demand,” they write in a 27-page court filing. “The rising number of children fleeing to this country will likely worsen that shortfall." 

The groups point out the government is represented in every case. 

The Homeland Security Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Health and Human Services Department are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit.  

Along with the ACLU, the lawsuit was brought by the American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and the law firm K&L Gates LLP. 

The groups said the recent supplemental request from the Obama administration is not enough to handle legal representation for the huge influx of child immigrants crossing over the border, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. 

In any case, there is no guarantee that the request will pass Congress. 

"In the meantime, children continue to appear alone in court every day," according to the ACLU.

The administration's $3.7 billion request included $64 million for the Justice Department. Most of that is earmarked for more immigration judges. 

A total of $15 million would be used to provide direct legal representation to the children. Another $2.5 million would expand legal orientation for parents of children.

The lawsuit notes that the Supreme Court, in a series of other cases, has found the due process clause requires the government to provide legal representation for the children. 

"Yet every day in courts throughout the country, children represent themselves in deportation cases that are often more complex and more serious than most juvenile delinquency cases," according to the court filing.  

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