Immigrant groups sue Holder over deportations

A coalition of immigrant rights groups is suing the government to halt deportation proceedings for children that crossed the Southwest border after fleeing violence in their native El Salvador and Guatemala.

Half a dozen children are listed as plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit naming Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell as defendants.

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The lawsuit seeks to block deportation of just those children, unless the government can ensure adequate legal representation. However, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council and other groups involved have also filed a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of children alleging the government has neglected to provide them with lawyers for their deportation hearings.

"These children face an imminent threat of being deported, potentially to their death," said Ahilan Arulanantham, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "To force them to defend themselves against a trained prosecutor, with their lives literally on the line, violates due process and runs counter to everything our country stands for."

The legal action comes as the government struggles to cope with a flood of tens of thousands of immigrant children who have poured into the United States this year.

Top Obama administration officials have deemed the children priorities for removal, and not eligible for the president’s deferred action program that allows some younger illegal immigrants to remain in the country.

The influx of cases has strained immigration courts, prompting the Justice Department to scramble to install more judges.

Still, the advocacy groups say an expedited deportation process dubbed the "rocket docket” puts children in danger of being wrongfully deported.

“Many children are eligible to remain in the United States, but may be ordered deported simply because they do not understand our complex immigration laws and how to prove their claims," said Beth Werlin, deputy legal director of the American Immigration Council.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.