Last week a senior immigration judge apparently misled the court in a sworn deposition. Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Jack H. Weil said that he has taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds.
Weil stated: “It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” Weil was explaining why the Immigration Courts are conducting deportation hearings for child refugees from Central America even though the children do not have an attorney representing them.
To make sure that he was understood, Judge Weil repeated his absurd claim saying, “I’ve told you I have trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law…You can do a fair hearing. It’s going to take you a lot of time.”
Child development experts immediately reacted with derision to the judge’s misrepresentations. The Washington Post interviewed Psychology Professor Laurence Steinberg of Temple University who told the paper: “I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition. Three and four years olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”
I am in a unique position because I both teach immigration law at Hofstra Law School and represent Central American refugee children. After 45 hours of my immigration law classes, my students -who all have a bachelors degree and at least one year of law school under their belt- might be able to appear in court under the supervision of an experienced attorney.
The four year olds I represent could represent themselves in 20 years after they complete college and start law school, but right now, they are learning to color.
Judge Weil is not only a senior official in the Justice Department, he trains new immigration judges. That means that his disregard for basic due process protections for vulnerable refugee children are being transmitted to hundreds of judges around the country who make decisions that affect whether children will live or die. His deposition came in a case brought in Seattle against the Justice Department challenging the lack of representation of refugee children.
The Justice Department has disavowed Judge Weil’s statement. The Department’s spokesperson said:
“At no time has the Department indicated that 3 and 4 year olds are capable of representing themselves. Jack Weil was speaking in a personal capacity and his statements, therefore, do not necessarily represent the views of EOIR or the Department of Justice.”
But, the Justice Department is responsible for the horrible situation that Judge Weil is defending. In the case of a child refugee, the Federal government pays for almost everything. It pays for the Border Patrol agent that arrests the child, for the corporations that detain her, for the judge and prosecuting attorney that she sees in court, for Jack Weil to oversee the process, etc. The only thing the Federal government does not pay for is the lawyer to represent the child. Which means that in thousands of cases the children are unrepresented. In fact, a recent study found that 42% of Central America refugee children in deportation proceedings were not represented by a lawyer.
Finally, let me assure you, an unrepresented three year old cannot get a fair trial, no matter how good a teacher Judge Weil is.
Check the Washington Post story HERE