Seattle Judge Argues 3-Year-Olds Can Represent Themselves

April 28, 2016 7:23 am
by David Jakeman

A recent statement made in a deposition in a Seattle Court has a number of SeaTac immigration attorneys scratching their heads. Jack Weil, an experienced immigration judge, made the argument recently that young children are old enough to understand immigration law. The testimony has made national waves.

Young Children and Immigration Law

Weil’s comments that came in the Seattle deposition have caused quite a stir. He said, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. 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.’’ In case you thought that he may have misspoken, he reiterated the idea later in his deposition. “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.’’

Of course, numerous child development specialists were taken aback by Weil’s assertion. We’re more likely to think of children of that age learning how to play with other children, saying four-word sentences, and building towers with blocks. There are a lot of strange things said in the context of immigration and immigration law, but this has to be one of the most bizarre. Immigration law can be incredibly complicated, and many SeaTac immigration attorneys note that immigration law can get complicated even for the most seasoned attorney.

ACLU Immigration Lawsuit

The deposition came in the context of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the federal government’s inability to provide legal counsel for every undocumented child who is facing immigration court proceedings. The Justice Department is contesting the lawsuit, but Weil’s comments have put it in a difficult spot. It’s difficult to articulate the justifications for not providing legal counsel for each child, but it’s not likely that Weil’s statements were helpful. The Justice Department, and Weil, both argue that the statements were taken out of context.

It is true that an immigration court judge can employ many practices and safeguards to ensure that children receive the best hearing possible, but even then, it’s difficult to imagine that a child can fully understand the implications of proceedings in the immigration court. Having an advocate designated to understand the child’s position and to fight for it sounds much better to the public ear.

The ACLU attorney deposing Weil was astounded when he first heard the statement, but he later realized that Weil meant what he said.1 Observers are also concerned because Weil is in a position where he trains other immigration court judges, and they fear that such opinions could become even more widespread. SeaTac immigration attorneys who represent immigrant children are grateful for the increased attention to their vulnerable clients. There are unfortunately too many children lacking the representation they need.

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