lawyer and toddler
Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate are calling for funding for certain immigrants to have access to lawyers in civil deportation proceedings. Reports of an immigration judge saying that toddlers can be taught immigration law has brought attention to the issue. (The file photo above does not depict a lawyer, or a migrant in U.S. deportation proceedings) DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

Should child immigrants have legal representation in deportation proceedings? Yes, that is a real question being debated by real adults in Washington, D.C., where a bill to fund attorneys for immigrant children and other vulnerable classes of people facing deportation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill received additional attention after immigration judge Jack H. Weil said under oath that toddlers could represent themselves in immigration court. He later told the Washington Post that statement did not “present an accurate assessment of my views on this topic” hand have been “taken out of context.”

Nevertheless, immigration activists, judges and lawyers pounced on the gaff that revealed a stark reality of America’s deportation and removal system. A number of activist -- mainly immigration lawyers -- put Weil’s claim to the test by questioning their own toddlers in a court. The videos remind viewers that toddlers are incapable of spelling their own names, let alone grasping the meaning of “credible fear” in an asylum case, or writing a coherent history or prosecution in their home country. While the actual deportation of toddlers is super depressing, the fake deportation of these kids is, in a twisted way, kinda cute.

Take Evan, who wants God to help him with his mock immigration case.

Mock Immigration Judge: What is your name?

Evan: Evan

Judge: Can you please say your full name, for the record?

Evan: I can’t -- I don’t know what to do.


Judge: And what relief will you be applying for today, from removal?

Evan: God

Judge: God?

Evan: Ya

Granted, it’s unclear how much the parents explained to the kids before they put them up to this act of neophyte activism. An immigration judge could give a kid like Evan options. But it’s beside the point. Watch another kid, Nora, try to grasp the concept of nations, citizenship and borders.

Judge: What country are you from?

Nora: Um, Massachusetts

Judge: What country do you want to live it?

Nora: Boston

Judge: Can you tell us why?

Nora: Because -- it’s so pretty out there.

Judge: And what defense to deportation are you seeking?

Nora: Uh, hide and seek

Supporters of the bill consider it a no-brainer for minors facing an often life-or-death fight for deportation relief. Toddlers can’t always tell the difference between when, where, why and how. Plus, they live in a fantasy world. Here’s Emilia, the cutest of the crop (you can watch the videos of these “interviews” below).

Judge: When did you come to the United States?

Emilia: When did I come there? I was just having fun in my playground.

Some opponents of the bill consider it a welfare handout for non-citizens. Policy analyst John Freere makes this case in a blog post for the Center for Immigration Studies. Instead of providing lawyers in these civil cases, he argues, the entire immigration system should enter the criminal system. That way, people who enter the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa would have the same right to a defense lawyer.

“The fact is, there's already a way to make sure all illegal aliens receive an attorney during their immigration proceedings: criminalize immigration law. By making violation of immigration law a criminal offense, it would give aliens a constitutional right to an attorney,” he writes.

It’s a radical proposition -- that could jail thousands of students, business professionals and tourists each year -- but it would solve the immediate problem facing migrant children. In any case, a lack of lawyers isn’t just a problem for “illegal aliens,” but also for U.S. citizens who have been deported, including an American 4-year-old who was separated from her (undocumented) parents after 20 hours in a bedless cell with little food. (Freere calls focusing on child immigrants “a last resort of people who hope to radically overhaul immigration law with an appeal to emotion.”)

Human rights activists may push forward their pro-attorney agenda without a bill on the hill. The ACLU is currently suing the Obama administration on behalf of eight minors aged 10 to 17 who face deportation proceedings.

“Each will be required to respond to the charges against him or her, and, in theory, will be afforded an opportunity to make legal arguments and present evidence on his or her own behalf. But in reality those rights will be meaningless because children are not competent to exercise them,” the group states in their legal brief.

Bonus video! (No idea how you spell this girl’s name)

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