Thousands of children face immigration judges without lawyers

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The ACLU is arguing that the federal government should be required to pay for lawyers for children in immigration proceedings. (Source: CBS News) The ACLU is arguing that the federal government should be required to pay for lawyers for children in immigration proceedings. (Source: CBS News)
Children have their breakfast at the "Vina de Tijuana AC" migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, April 28, 2018. (Source: AP Photo/Hans-Maximo Musielik) Children have their breakfast at the "Vina de Tijuana AC" migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, April 28, 2018. (Source: AP Photo/Hans-Maximo Musielik)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

More than 2,300 children are in danger of going through the immigration court system in Arizona without a lawyer, according to the latest data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

That number is up sharply from last year and years before, when the numbers ranged from 100 to 350.

“Immigration proceedings are administrative. They’re civil proceedings and so the government is arguing that because they’re not criminal proceedings, these kids are not entitled to lawyers,” said Alessandra Soler, who is the executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.

The ACLU is fighting the federal government over the issue. In an appeal in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the ACLU is arguing that the federal government should be required to pay for lawyers for children in immigration proceedings. The organization was successful in making that argument about immigrants with mentally disabled.

Right now, children going through the immigration court system either need to have a private attorney or rely on pro bono work from legal aid organizations. The Florence Project has a goal of representing every juvenile going through immigration proceedings in Arizona, but the sheer number of children going before the court this year will likely strain the organization’s limited resources.

The result could be children who would otherwise be eligible for asylum or other relief, getting sent back to dangerous countries simply because they did not get adequate legal representation.

"It's an absolute joke to think that a 10-year-old or a 14-year-old can stand before a judge and make the case why they shouldn't be deported," said Soler.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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