Children in South Carolina and throughout the country who have entered the United States illegally may have the right to an attorney in the future depending on how a judge rules in a lawsuit filed by immigration rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 and had a hearing on March 24, argues that all children should have both procedural due process rights and substantive rights under the constitution. The opposition argues that the children only have the latter set of rights.
About twelve children between the ages of 1 and 17 and living in four states are represented in the lawsuit, and the opposition is arguing that six of them do not qualify for substantive rights under the constitution and thus do not have a right to an attorney. This is based on the fact that the children were captured at the border rather than living illegally in the country for some time.
The children who have lived in the country illegally are allowed access to a lawyer, but other children must appear in court where the government has prosecutors but the child has no legal assistance. The judge may be asking questions of a child as young as 3 or 4 years old. The judge in this case says he will issue a ruling later.
Children and adults who are able to access legal help regarding immigration might get better results with an attorney. One reason for this is that immigration law is so complex that it might be difficult for a layperson to have a full knowledge of what is required for various types of immigrant visas. An attorney may also stay informed about changes in policy, be able to assist with obtaining and preparing the proper forms and documentation, and appear in court with the client.