Senior DOJ Official Responsible for Training Immigration Judges Says 3-And-4-Year-Olds Can Represent Themselves in Court

"This is the person in charge of training immigration judges about how to treat children?" deputy legal director at the ACLU of Southern California Ahilan Arulanantham asked

Images released by border patrol @CBP showing the McAllen, Texas detention facility.

A senior Justice Department official and longtime immigration judge said in sworn testimony he has helped three and four-year-olds become well-versed enough in immigration law to represent themselves in court, the Washington Post reports.

Jake Weil, who the Post notes is “responsible for training other judges,” made the claim during a deposition in federal court, according to a transcript of the court case. His testimony came as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union asking the government to provide attorneys for children who cannot afford a lawyer in immigration proceedings; he is an expert witness for the government 

“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.”

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Weil later repeated he has “trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law.”

“You can do a fair hearing,” he said. “It’s going to take you a lot of time.”

A witness for the plaintiffs—which include the ACLU, the American Immigration Council, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and several law firms—said Weil’s testimony was “preposterous.”

“I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition,” Temple University psychology Laurence Sternberg said. “Three- and 4-year-olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”

Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Southern California, questioned Weil in the deposition. He said Weil’s comments are “going to be a significant issue in the case.”

"This is the person in charge of training immigration judges about how to treat children?"  Arulanantham asked. "And this is the witness the government puts forward to present their views as to how this is supposed to happen? That is horrifying."

In a statement to the Post, Weil said his sworn testimony doesn’t “present and accurate assessment of my views on the top” and were “taken out of context.”

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Elizabeth Preza is the Managing Editor of AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @lizacisms.