Yet More Evidence of our Broken Immigration System

Via the LAT:  This judge says toddlers can defend themselves in immigration court

On Friday, the ACLU posted a transcript of the deposition in that case in which Weil asserted that toddlers can represent themselves in his court.

“Are you aware of any experts in child psychology or comparable experts who agree with the assessment that 3- and 4-year-olds can be taught immigration law?” Ahilan Arulanantham, a Los Angeles-based deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, asked Weil during the deposition in October.

“I haven’t read any studies one way or another,” Weil said, according to the transcript.

“What about like a 1-year-old?” Arulanantham said.

“I mean, I think there’s a point that there has to be communication,” Weil said.

But he later maintained: “I have trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law. You can do a fair hearing.”

Weil went on to note: “It’s going to take you a lot of time. But I really think that a great alternative to terminating a case for a child who may be eligible for relief where there’s no counsel is to proceed very slowly, very carefully, and I’m going to tap every single resource I can to see if I can get the some help.”

“By help, you mean counsel?” Arulanantham said.

“Counsel allows me to be effective. They allow me to be efficient,” Weil said, but without an attorney for the child, “I can trudge on.”

The judge maintains that the comments have been taken out of context and a generous reading of his statement could lead one to the conclusion that he is sincerely trying to help these children.

However, even the most generous of interpretation means that we have toddlers facing immigration judges without the benefit of counsel.  This is, in my estimation, bad enough (indeed, unjust)  for an adult, but strikes me are utterly stunning and unconscionable for a toddler.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Gustopher says:

    My charitable interpretation is that the judge is effectively acting as counsel for the toddlers, while on the bench judging them.

    Which is deeply weird and a complete conflict of interest. Does he deport these toddlers, or find a reason for them to stay?

  2. Argon says:

    This is what’s happening with a Democrat in the White House. WWTD?

    (What Would Ted/Trump Do?)

  3. Barry says:

    That judge should be removed from the bench, to an appropriate correctional institution.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My ACLU dollars continue to be well spent.

  5. Jenos Idanian says:

    It’s not the immigration system that’s messed up here, it’s the legal system. This is the same legal system that gives us, under the “civil forfeiture” laws, such absurdities as several of these cases.

    So, just what is the ideal immigration law, anyway? Going by what I tend to hear around here, I can’t tell if it’s “every Mexican has the inalienable right to come to the US” or “everyone on earth has the inalienable right to come to the US.”

  6. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Taking the high road again, I see.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    In some sense I do(argh) agree with Jenos. The real problem is that the American Judicial System treats children like adults, and that makes no sense.

  8. Electroman says:

    I upvoted Jenos (a rare, but not unprecedented, move for me) for his first paragraph, with which I agree wholeheartedly.

    I believe that prior to the 1920s, our immigration law was indeed very much like “everyone on earth has the inalienable right to come to the US” – unless, of course, you were Chinese.

    Today the US should probably move to a system like Canada’s – you can be sponsored by a family member or get in as a refugee (not easy, BTW); other than that they give you an exam and then decide if you’re in or not based on that score. The exam is pretty wide-ranging and contains cultural elements like language knowledge (they have two official languages and we have none, which might make this difficult for us) plus economic stuff like what general field your job is in, education and age. If you’re my age (fifties) it is very hard to get in, even if you know French and English well and are in a high-demand job group.

  9. Davebo says:

    Respondents in immigration court have no right to counsel so in essence he’s right. In the case of unaccompanied minors I think that’s wrong but it’s the law.

    Now would be a good time for AILA and the ACLU to work out a system to provide representation for these minors.

    But that fact is, with or without representation more than 80% of them will be lose.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    So, just what is the ideal immigration law, anyway?

    OK, I’ll bite.

    The ideal immigration law lets in anyone who will make America more prosperous in the long run. Historically, that means almost everyone who wants to be here.

  11. Jenos Idanian says:

    @DrDaveT: The ideal immigration law lets in anyone who will make America more prosperous in the long run.

    That’s as close to meaningless as I’ve seen in a while. What is “the long run?” 5 years? 10? A couple of generations?

    And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for “the long run,” where’s the money come from?

    I could save a lot of money in the long run if I got a newer car that got double my existing car’s mileage. I just don’t happen to have the cash to do so, and the dealer isn’t interested in hearing how much better off I’ll be 20 years down the line.

    Electroman had a decent idea above, citing Canada’s policies.

    And the New York Daily News, of all places, had a fascinating article called “The complete guide to fleeing President Donald Trump’s America.” They described it as what sort of documents you’ll need to possess to get out of the US, but that’s a very inaccurate description. You don’t need much of anything to get out of the US.

    What they presented was what you need to get into other countries.

    I don’t see a lot of protests about how other countries regulate their immigration. Hell, Mexico’s southern border is practically a Berlin Wall (unless you promise you’re just passing through to the US).

    One final point: there is a huge difference between walls intended to keep people out and walls intended to keep people in. The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain were of the latter type. The walls around the White House and the proposed wall on the southern border are teh former.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    That’s as close to meaningless as I’ve seen in a while.

    Then clearly you have no business proposing or evaluating policy.

    What is “the long run?” 5 years? 10? A couple of generations?

    A couple of generations sounds reasonable. Different horizons are appropriate for different effects.

    And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for “the long run,” where’s the money come from?

    What’s to pay for? The private sector handles immigrants quite well. You keep forgetting that immigrants are a net economic plus for the country, not a drain.

    If additional capital is needed in the short term for specific programs, well, let’s see…

    Congress could actually fully fund tax collection, so that we could collect the nearly $400 billion dollars in owed-but-not-paid taxes that are outstanding. Sticking to the low-hanging fruit, you could probably get a quick same-year $200B from an investment of $10B.

    Congress could cancel the F-35 “Joint Suck Fighter”, the most expensive military program in history, and build three different affordable (and useful) planes instead. That’s a trillion dollar stream of revenue right there; net the replacement programs it’s still hundreds of billions.

    Congress could reform Veterans’ Disability Benefit calculations, so that only actually disabled veterans get paid 100% disability rates. That would save $10B to $20B per year.

    Congress could end the absurd War on Weed, focusing on actually dangerous drugs instead.

    That should be more than enough to tide over any short-term disruptions due to an influx of immigrants.

  13. Jenos Idanian says:

    @DrDaveT: Legal immigrants may be a financial asset to the country, but illegal immigrants aren’t. They drive down wages with under-the-table work. They consume social services without paying taxes. They put a burden on our legal system when caught.

    I think I prefer Electroman’s description of Canada’s policy over your “olly olly oxen free” fantasy, thank you.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Legal immigrants may be a financial asset to the country, but illegal immigrants aren’t.

    Really? You think that magically causing the illegal workforce to go ‘poof’ would be a boon to the construction, hotel, and landscaping industries?

    They drive down wages with under-the-table work.

    That would probably be true if there were native-born American citizens willing to work that hard, for minimum wage. But, alas, there aren’t.

    They consume social services without paying taxes.

    Actually, many of them pay taxes. As do their children, eventually. They consume less social services than the non-working natives.

    The problem with your position is that it is contradicted by the evidence. No matter how much you want it to be true, illegal immigrants are not taking the bread out of the mouths of hardworking native-born (white) Americans.

  15. Jenos Idanian says:

    @DrDaveT: If there weren’t illegal aliens willing to work for less, those employers would have to offer Americans (or legal aliens) higher wages to get their work done.

    Why are you so in favor of bringing in a serf class (marginally better than slaves) that isn’t covered by minimum wage laws, OSHA regulations, and doesn’t have taxes withheld? Why do you want to give these employers such an easy way to cheat?

  16. @Jenos Idanian: That the immigrants in question can help drive down wages is a real issue. That they don’t pay taxes, however, is absurd. At a minimum they pay sales and excise taxes and property taxes (through their rent). Further, a rather large number of them pay income and payroll taxes, but since they use false SS #s they end up helping to subsidize the rest of us, since they will never get those benefits.

    In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, employers reported wages of $72.8 billion for 7.7 million workers who could not be matched to legal Social Security numbers.

    That total hit a record $90.4 billion, earned by 10.8 million workers, in 2007, just before the recession. Some of those were legal workers who simply made paperwork mistakes, but the majority are believed to be illegal immigrants.

    Because those wages were reported by employers and not paid under the table, Social Security and Medicare deductions had to be made. A total of 12.4 percent of those wages went into the SSA system — 6.2 percent paid each by the worker and the employer. An additional 2.9 percent was paid into Medicare, half by the worker and half by the employer.

    That means about $11.2 billion went into the Social Security Trust Fund in 2007, and $2.6 billion went into Medicare. While that money will be used to pay retirees and health-care beneficiaries, it most likely will never be claimed by the illegal immigrants who contributed it.


  17. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Then how about the not-strictly-financial costs? Do the names Brian Terry, Kate Steinle, Jamiel Shaw, and Matthew Denice ring any bells?

    Here’s a hint: they have something in common with four people in Missouri who are no longer with us.

  18. @Jenos Idanian: As is typically the case, you a) do not deal with facts when presented, and b) change the subject as a means of avoiding said facts.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    If there weren’t illegal aliens willing to work for less, those employers would have to offer Americans (or legal aliens) higher wages to get their work done.

    A) That has been tried. Americans do not want much of that work at any feasible wage.
    B) ‘Feasible’ here means a wage that the employer could pay and still make enough profit to stay in business.

    You can (and should) argue that such wages are exploitative, but you cannot coherently argue that they are hurting the economy. The businesses they enable employ other people at real wages, pay taxes, provide services, etc. The only people ostensibly harmed are the people who are braving hardship and persecution to cross our borders and work those jobs for those wages.

    And, honestly, aren’t you the libertarian here? How much sympathy do you really have for that Native Son who can’t outcompete a poor, displaced, uneducated, non-English-speaking manual laborer? I suspect the answer is “none, except when I need to claim that immigrants are hurting America”.

  20. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: But there ate some who want to be here to spread drugs, violently attavk people, and mess up communities. I thought thatvthe Dream Act was an overall good idea, with some modifications. It seems some of the leaders thought it went too far, and some did not think it went far enough. What I would like to see is the US recruit the best people and bring them over: scientists, athletes, doctors, entertainers, engineers, writers, chefs, and artists.

  21. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I was unaware that there was some obligation to present all my arguments at once. I think that illegal immigration is bad for a variety of reasons. Economics is one of them — I think that it’s bad to have that much of an underground economy, and I believe that the harm is greater than the net gain.

    I think it’s bad for the other crimes that illegal aliens commit. The murders I cited above are just a sample. The identity theft that is involved in the “paid taxes under fraudulent identities” is another — when they use the identities of legal immigrants or citizens, it causes unpleasant complications for those whose identities they use.

    I think it’s bad as a matter of policy to have whole swaths of laws that we don’t enforce equally (if at all). It breeds a level of contempt for law in general.

    I think it’s bad for legal immigrants. When special programs are announced for the benefit of illegal aliens, it tells them that they were fools for trying to come here legally. Further, when idiots lump legal and illegal immigrants into the same category, it insults them.

    People who come here legally pay us a great compliment. Those who come here seeking citizenship pay us the ultimate compliment. Treating them like those who come here illegally is to spit in their faces.

    That’s a few of my objections to illegal aliens. I make no assurances that it’s all of them.

  22. DrDaveT says:


    But there are some who want to be here to spread drugs, violently attack people, and mess up communities.

    Of course there are. But most of the people (both in raw numbers and per capita) who want to spread drugs, attack people, and mess up communities were born here.

    Illegal immigrants are more law-abiding, as a group, than citizens. Embarrassing, but true.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    That’s a few of my objections to illegal aliens.

    As I’m sure you noticed, every one of those particular objections could be fixed by changing the laws that define which immigration is illegal.

    So let’s move on to the more fun list, your reasons for not wanting them even if they were all legal. You can skip the “stealing jobs” canard; we’ll take that as read.