Justice Dept memo warns judges against being too sympathetic in child immigrant cases

Justice Dept memo warns judges against being too sympathetic in child immigrant cases
© Getty Images

A Justice Department memo issued this week contains changes to guidelines for questioning unaccompanied children in the country illegally, and directs judges to try such cases fairly despite "sympathetic allegations" that such cases may include.

The memo, issued Dec. 20 by the Executive Office for Immigration Review and obtained by Reuters, eliminates previously-issued language instructing officials on “child-sensitive questioning” and requests judges be skeptical of minors who it says may be abusing the system.


An unaccompanied minor “generally receives more favorable treatment under the law than other categories of illegal aliens,” the memo claims, which creates “an incentive to misrepresent accompaniment status or age in order to attempt to qualify for the benefits.” 

Other changes to department policy include changes to rules meant to make unaccompanied minors comfortable before court proceedings. Language that previously allowed children to explore a courtroom before trial proceedings, including the judge's bench, has been changed to allow this only “to the extent that resources and time permit." The judge's bench is now strictly off limits.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Immigration Judges suggested the changes were part of a Trump administration effort to increase deportations.

The “overall tone” of the memo “is very distressing and concerning to immigration judges," Dana Marks told Reuters.

"There is a feeling that the immigration courts are just being demoted into immigration enforcement offices, rather than neutral arbiters,” Marks added. “There has been a relentless beating of the drum toward enforcement rather than due process.”

Earlier this week, the Justice Department also rescinded guidelines advising local courts to be wary of imposing stiff fees and penalties on poor defendants.

“Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it,” Sessions said Thursday. “This is good government and prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice.”