AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - In one judge's opinion, children as young as 3 and 4 can represent themselves in immigration court.
Immigration Judge Jack H. Weil said in a recent federal disposition that young children can learn immigration laws well enough to act in their own defense in court. Weil's position comes as a part of an ongoing debate over whether children who are facing deportation should be entitled to a taxpayer funded attorney.
According to Justice Department lawyers, nothing in the U.S. Constitution requires taxpayers to provide counsel to minors in immigration courts.
A local immigration attorney says immigration laws are as complex as tax laws.
"I spend most of my days understanding the law and trying to explain it to adult clients," immigration attorney Zelda Vasquez said. "When I represent children, I usually explain the situation to their parent or their guardian. The child is present and I make sure that they're comfortable with what's going on. But bringing children into court to make theses decisions is impossible. They're just not competent to make legal decisions or understand proceedings."
When a child is tried without a lawyer, they run the risk of answering questions they do not fully understand.
"One of the things that children really struggle with are abstract thoughts," WTAMU psychology professor Ashley Pinkham said. "For example, understanding cause and effect or understanding hypothetical statements. Even with a lot of training or a lot of coaching they may not be cognitive at the point where they can understand those type of hypothetical or abstract ideas."
Children who are charged with violating immigration laws have no right to an appointed counsel, just like adults. When a child is charged they face the same charges adults do such as not renewing their visas or entering the country illegally.
There are many Pro-Bono organizations and programs that try to help children find attorneys but most are forced to fend for themselves.