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Children Are Being Allowed to Make Life-Altering Court Decisions

— April 12, 2018

Children Are Being Allowed to Make Life-Altering Court Decisions

The immigration system recently took a hit from comedian and talk show host John Oliver, who spoke on the absurdity of children being allowed to make decisions while being interviewed in court.  In a prerecorded clip, for illustration purposes, a small child is asked which country she would want to be deported to.  She thinks for a long moment, obviously confused by the question, and eventually answers, “pizza.”

While the response solicited a chuckle from viewers, it also helped to drive the cringe-worthy point home – children shouldn’t be allowed to make life-changing immigration decisions on their own behalf.  They simply aren’t capable of doing so.  However, the Justice Department apparently believes children can effectively represent themselves in immigration court without a lawyer.  Currently, minors, like their adult counterparts, do not have access to legal representation at the governments’ expense.  One expert Oliver interviews says it’s like trying “death penalty cases in traffic court.”

It’s no secret immigration courts are overloaded and trying to make it through an extensive backlog by rushing through trials.  Oliver again provides a jaw-dropping illustration of just how broken the current system is by timing one such trial at under two minutes.  Oliver drives home the painful reality of the system’s current state and the fact that it all too often costs immigrants more than their statuses – it costs them their lives.

Children Are Being Allowed to Make Life-Altering Court Decisions
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

ICE’s efforts to detain illegal immigrants very publicly skyrocketed under the Trump administration.  Now, more than ever before, illegal immigrants are being arrested and detained, sometimes for five years or longer, before their cases are heard.  When they finally are, they are over in just minutes because they have no legal representation nor any means of obtaining an attorney.  What’s more, this not only applies to adults but children too.  The – broken – system doesn’t discriminate by age.  Children are being allowed in court without a helping hand.

The problem with allowing children to make substantial decisions in court isn’t an issue exclusive to the immigration matters, either.  Oftentimes, minors at very young ages are asked by the court to state reasonable preference for living arrangement purposes during divorce and custody battles.  This has been a long-criticized formality and one that is far from simple.

Sometimes children can testify about abuse or voice preference.  Other times, they are suspected to have been coached by one parent into choosing a particular response, and therefore, the court will refuse to interview them.  Or, they are unable to testify regarding abuse because of previously unsubstantiated claims made to Child Protective Services.  It just depends.

The point is, this whole issue is one rooted in psychology and human brain development.  Since when are children just as capable as adults to make adult decisions without legal representation?  If this can actually be proven possible, then can’t one argue children should also be allowed to live on their own and make all their daily decisions without input?  If they’re fully capable of making more complex ones, why not, right?

Allowing children to speak for themselves regarding deportation just adds another wrench to an already flawed system.  When children are left to make such important, life-changing decisions for themselves and their families, this seems like the courts are destined for decision-making failure.


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