Jan. 30 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that undocumented immigrant minors are not entitled to government-funded defense attorneys for immigration court proceedings.
The Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals in California's ruling upheld the deportation of a Honduran minor, referred to in court documents as "C.J.," who illegally immigrated to the U.S. to escape the threat of gangs in his home country.
"We are mindful that our decision means that, absent a reprieve offered by the government, C.J. will likely be returned to a country in turmoil," Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote in the court's decision. "We sympathize with his personal plight, as C.J. appears to have displayed courage in the face of serious adversity. But while 'our hearts are with him,' the law does not support his requested relief."
"It is a brutal decision," Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. "It is brutal for him and also brutal for thousands of other children who have fled three of the most violent countries on Earth -- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador."
C.J. entered the United States with his mother, on June 21, 2014 when he was 13-years-old. Four days later, the Department of Homeland Security served C.J. with a "notice to appear" in immigration court. Over the next two years, Maria appeared in court hearings with her son, but could not afford a private attorney to represent him.
According to court documents, the judge gave the mother several opportunities to make her case without an attorney, which she attempted to do, including filing legal paperwork in English, which she did not speak.
But after several hearings,including one in which the immigration judge said he found C.J.'s fears of gang violence and forced recruitment to be credible, C.J.'s application for asylum was rejected in 2016.
C.J.'s case was eventually taken up by the ACLU of Southern California, which appealed the deportation order and argued that he should have had a court-appointed attorney to help navigate the asylum process.
But the court o Monday ruled that the ACLU "failed to show that the additional process he seeks -- government-funded, court-appointed counsel -- is necessary, either in his case or for alien minors as a class."
The ACLU has not stated if they plan to appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision.
In a concurrence, Judge John B. Owens said the decision does not impact whether unaccompanied minors are entitled to a court-appointed attorney because C.J. was with his mother when he crossed the border.