LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union says a teenager's deportation case exemplifies why undocumented minors should not go before an immigration judge without legal representation.
"He came here fleeing violence sought asylum and he couldn't afford a lawyer," said Ahilan Arulanantham, the legal director for the ACLU's Southern California office.
The teen, only identified as C.J.L.G., was not granted asylum.
"I don't think there's any way that would have happened if he had a lawyer," said Arulanantham.
Arulanantham made a case on behalf of C.J.L.G. and other minors before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The very basic important questions in his case like the nature of the violence he suffered or the fact that that he was abandoned by his father never came out in the hearing because he never knew to say those things," said Arulanantham.
The government argued proper questions were asked and suggested evidence could have been presented during an appeal when the minor did have an attorney, adding there are available resources.
"The remedy would have been for C.J.L.G.'s attorney before to have shown the board what evidence was not in the hearing below and we don't have that here," said Department of Justice attorney Kiley Kane.
The DOJ attorney said removal proceedings have a "grand infrastructure of pro-bono resources."
"C.J.L.G.'s case is a really great example of why it's not enough. If you can get a pro-bono lawyer, that's great. But in his case, there wasn't one available," said Arulanantham.
Judge David Faber raised the question of the financial responsibility. "Shouldn't it be up to Congress and not the court to decide?" asked Faber.
The court also considered the question of a court-appointed attorney in some cases, while Judge Consuleo Callahan pointed out the significance of making the government responsible for appointing an attorney for minors who could not obtain legal counsel.
"Do you concede that we would be the first to boldly go there?" asked Callahan in court.
"How bold it is I guess is for you to decide, your honor," replied Arulanantham.
It's unclear when the court could rule on the matter.