Judge Claims 3-Year-Olds Can Understand Immigration And Court Proceedings

by Gillian Fuller
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Immigration law is pretty complex. Most of us, probably, understand the basics — a person is considered an American citizen if he or she is born within the US, foreign nationals can be granted legal status through the process of naturalization, etc. — but few people, besides lawyers, can describe immigration legislation in detail.

One judge, however, disagrees.

While testifying under oath in a Seattle federal court, Justice Department official Jack H. Weil argued toddlers are capable of understanding immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court, The Washington Post reports.

Weil said,

I've taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. 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.

The outrageous statement was made during a hearing to determine whether or not foreign children facing deportation have the right to a state-provided attorney.

Americans, as many know, are entitled to taxpayer-funded representation if they themselves cannot afford it. The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting for these rights to extend to foreign children as well.

Weil's assertion is troublesome for several reasons.

First, and most obviously, it's simply wrong. Three-year-olds scarcely know how to read, let alone understand the complexities of the American legal system.

According to Temple University Psychology Professor Laurence Steinberg,

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 represent themselves in court.

Secondly, Weil's ridiculous argument ignores the fact that foreign children, especially young children, may not speak English. How, exactly, are they supposed to understand something they literally can't understand linguistically? (Answer: They can't.)

Finally, and most alarmingly, Weil works in the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, overseeing cases for all 58 of the country's immigration courts. He is responsible for training incoming immigration judges, which suggests, if he teaches his erroneous beliefs, the result could be disastrous for our legal system.

It's hard to tell if Weil's argument was simply an egregious attempt at furthering his cause — which seeks to deny legal access to foreign children — or, as he made the statement under oath, a genuine reflection of his beliefs.

Either way, it's safe to say Weil is not fit to be an immigration judge.

Read more about this troubling case at The Washington Post.

Citations: Can a 3-year old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so. (Washington Post), Judge Says 3-Year-Olds Understand Immigration Law, Can Represent Themselves in Court (Complex)