During Wednesday’s convocation, two local lawyers spoke on due process for child refuges from Central America.
Lisa Koop, an associate director of legal services at the National Immigration Justice Center and a 1999 graduate, said, “Anyone who cares about human rights, immigrant rights, children’s rights, or really any rights should be passionate about due process.”
The lawyers, Koop and Felipe Merino, owner and managing attorney at Merino Law Firm, P.C., spoke about their work as immigration lawyers and about what has become important to them in these positions.
“Fundamentally, procedural due process involves notice and the right to be heard,” Koop said. “Due process demands that people be given a fair day in court. For immigrant children crossing the border into the United States, a fair day in court is being compromised.”
By federal mandate, Goshen College celebrates Constitution Day every year, as does every other school that receives federal money.
Each Constitution Day is different, but the focus at Goshen tends to be centered on social justice.
Jan Bender Shetler, history professor, said, “We often look for some issue, usually a social justice issue [with] constitutional concerns, that is surfacing and we kind of address that.”
As a result of this social justice priority, the issue of due process being denied to immigrant children was chosen as the focus for Constitution Day this year.
Said Koop, “The influx of immigrant children has been referred to as a crisis,” she said. “The perceived threat to American life is simply nonexistent. What is at risk here is due process.”
The issue wasn’t only that due process should be granted, but also how to grant it.
“Due process actually does apply to non-citizens,” Koop said.
According to Koop and Merino, even though the constitution allows for due process for immigrant children, they are not getting it when they go to immigration courts.
“We owe every child, every person, who is placed in court proceedings a system that has integrity that allows them a meaningful chance to be heard,” Koop said. “Due process demands it and we, as believers in justice and human rights, must ensure it is so.”
Immigrant children are deported unless they prove they are eligible for asylum.
According to Merino, in order to get asylum, the children, as young as four years old, must prove without the help of legal counsel that they were abused, abandoned, or neglected in their countries of origin.
“You have to be able to show that you have a well-founded fear of persecution… in order to get asylum,” Merino said.
What further complicates the process is that they have to prove it to the state court judge before they can move on to immigration proceedings.
“Even with attorneys, the [court] system is stacked against immigrant children,” Koop said. “Without counsel they don’t stand a chance.”
Merino and Koop left the GC community with a challenge.
“That immigrants get due process is the right conclusion, from a legal standpoint, from a human rights standpoint, and from a Christian standpoint,” Koop said. “All human beings have rights and no human being is illegal.”
Said Merino “The choice is yours and you decide, are these kids taking up our resources or are we standing up and making our constitution a living document by saving others’ rights?”