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Judge Says 3-Year-Olds Can Understand Immigration Law

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A federal immigration judge is raising eyebrows for suggesting that 3- and 4-year-olds are capable of learning immigration law and representing themselves in court.

Immigration judge Jack Weil made the assertion about toddlers in a Seattle federal court deposition. "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.” He later repeated his claim two separate times in the deposition.

Weil insisted that although toddlers representing themselves is "not the most efficient" method, it "can be done."

Legal and child psychology experts subsequently criticized the judge's assertions that a child can be expected to appear individually before an immigration judge.

"I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition," Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg told The Washington Post. "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.”

National Immigration Law Center policy attorney Avideh Moussavian also ridiculed Weil's assertion, telling MSNBC that nobody can truly "plausibly defend the notion that a 3- or 4-year-old in an court proceeding, let alone one where the stakes are a matter of life or death, would be in a position to competently navigate a very, very complex court system."

Weil ultimately told The Washington Post that his comments were taken out of context, which Executive Office for Immigration Review spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid defended in a statement.

"The Department of Justice recognizes that immigration court proceedings are more effective and efficient when individuals are represented. The assistant chief immigration judge was speaking in a personal capacity when he made that statement. [His] statement does not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Justice," the statement read.

Sources: The Washington Post, MSNBC / Photo credit: Joseph Voves/Flickr

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