SEATTLE (AP) -- Moving forward on a lawsuit demanding legal representation for immigrant minors facing deportation could create a "magnet" effect at the border, attorneys for the federal government said.
On Wednesday, a U.S. District judge in Seattle heard arguments from attorneys involving a lawsuit filed in July by a coalition of immigrant rights advocacy groups who say most minors in deportation proceedings lack legal representation, and that violates the Constitution. The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, say the minors are entitled to due process under the Fifth Amendment.
The government opposes the demand in the lawsuit, saying it would attract more minors to travel to the U.S., among other concerns.
"It would create a magnet effect," said Deputy Attorney General Leon Fresco, who added it would be unlikely for Congress to provide the money needed to provide legal representation.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly did not issue a ruling Wednesday on the lawsuit brought on behalf of eight immigrant children. Three of the children have court hearings on Thursday.
While the flow of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. southern border has decreased recently, the impact of the surge this summer has been felt around the country. The surge overloaded several crossing points and detention centers and sparked heated protests and political fights. In response, federal officials are fast-tracking court deportation proceedings for minors caught at the border.
"It is undeniable that thousands of kids are moving through this process and getting deported," said Matt Adams of the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of the plaintiffs who range in age from 10 to 17 and are living in the Pacific Northwest and California. Several of them were fleeing violence in their countries -- one of the reasons behind the surge of tens of thousands of minors coming to the southern border recently, the lawsuit said.
Currently under federal law, the government is not required to provide attorneys for immigrants of any age facing deportation. However, immigrants can hire private attorneys or seek free legal representation.
"The right to counsel hasn't been denied," Fresco said.
Government attorneys also argued that the district court doesn't have jurisdiction over this case.
In addition to requiring the government to provide minors with legal representation, the lawsuit also seeks class-action certification to include other immigrant children.
The judge decided not to rule from the bench on the class-action certification or on a preliminary injunction to halt the deportation hearings scheduled this week.
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