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Videos Show Toddlers Representing Themselves In Mock Immigration Proceedings

The videos were posted in response to assertions by a Justice Department official that 3- and 4-year-olds can represent themselves in immigration court.

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Updated on

Watch this young girl get asked to designate her country of removal.

View this video on YouTube

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This 3-year-old has a special message for the judge.

View this video on YouTube

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Earlier this month, Jack H. Weil, an immigration judge responsible for training other judges, said in a deposition that 3- and 4-year-olds are capable of representing themselves.

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His testimony was part of a lawsuit brought by immigrant rights advocates and the ACLU, who argue that the government should be required to provide appointed counsel for children who can't afford a lawyer when facing deportation.

"I've taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds," Weil said. "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."

His statements angered immigrant advocates and pro-bono attorneys who work with the migrant children, leading some to post videos of them being asked questions they would typically face in court proceedings.

Texas-based attorney Amy Maldonado, who also practices in Michigan, has been collecting some of the videos and posting them on her YouTube channel.

Maldonado said the videos came out of a Facebook group discussion she and other attorneys had after Weil's statements were publicized. Amber L. Weeks was the first one to post a video, then other lawyers started posting videos of their kids.

"It's laughable and the videos are cute but the problem is very serious," Maldonado told BuzzFeed News. "You have a system where the consequences are severe but there are no protections because they're considered civil proceedings, not criminal and there's no right to counsel."

Maldonado believes the issue comes down to money.

"The government doesn't want to pay for immigrant children to have lawyers," Maldonado said. "That's what right to counsel looks like, you have to fund the lawyers to defend them."

Weil's sworn testimony was first reported by the Washington Post.

He was chosen by the Justice Department to serve as a spokesman on government safeguards to protect children appearing in immigration court.

Weil repeated his claim, saying, "I've told you I have trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law," according to the transcript. "You can do a fair hearing. It's going to take you a lot of time."

In an email to the Post, Weil said his statements don't "present an accurate assessment of my views on this topic" and were being "taken out of context."

Immigration courts have been inundated since 2014 following a surge of Central American immigrants showing up at the U.S. border as they attempt to escape violence and poverty.

Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.

Contact Adolfo Flores at adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com.

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