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Immigrant children who enter the country illegally with their parents have no right to a government-appointed lawyer in court, an appeals court ruled Monday.
The ruling came in the case of a Honduran boy who arrived in the United States in 2014 at age 13 and was denied a stay of deportation.
The boy came to the U.S. with his mother and appeared in immigration court without a lawyer.
While criminal defendants, citizens or not, have the right to government-funded legal representation, that right doesn't extend to immigration cases.
In the ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had not legislated to guarantee legal representation to minors in similar cases.
The ruling drew critical responses from immigrant rights advocates, who fear it could set off mass deportations against children in similar situations.
Between 2014 and 2016, the U.S. experienced a massive influx of unaccompanied minors and family units fleeing violence and economic hardship in Central America.
“If permitted to stand, [the ruling] will result in the deportation of thousands of vulnerable children to some of the most violent places on earth,” Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told Reuters.
But the ruling might not apply to unaccompanied minors.
In his concurrence of the ruling, Judge John Owens said the matter of unaccompanied minors is "a different question that could lead to a different answer."