The attorney taking on President Donald Trump over his alleged affair with an adult film actress went to immigration court Tuesday to try to secure the release of a 9-year-old boy from Guatemala.
A judge denied Michael Avenatti's request to dismiss the removal case against the boy, whose mother was deported in June.
Avenatti and another attorney had offered to take the boy from court to the airport and fly him to Guatemala. Instead, the judge agreed to let the boy voluntarily depart the U.S. in the next 60 days, as part of the ordinary process when an immigrant child who entered the U.S. without legal permission wishes to return.
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Standing outside court on Tuesday, Avenatti denied that he was representing the boy as a publicity stunt.
"I've been representing dozens of mothers and children for weeks now, traveling around the country," he said. "My record speaks for itself."
In addition to his legal fights on behalf of actress Stormy Daniels, Avenatti has taken up the cases of immigrant families separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy on border crossings. He has also started to draw some attention as a potential challenger to Trump in the next presidential election.
Aside from Avenatti's notoriety, the Guatemalan boy's case falls into the same legal situation as hundreds of children who were taken from their parents, only to have their parents removed without them.
The U.S. government said last week that it counted 365 children in that category, out of more than 1,800 children who were separated before the Trump administration officially stopped the policy.
Four government departments submitted a plan last week on how it would reunify the families. Government officials are supposed to track down parents in their countries of origin to confirm they want their children sent back and that there is no reason to stop reunification, then coordinate with those countries to return the children.
But immigrant children without a parent in the U.S. have their own legal rights, said Jennifer Podkul, director of policy at the legal group Kids in Need of Defense. They can file claims to try to stay in the U.S. even if their parents are no longer here.
"If a child wants to stay and make a claim for protection, we want to make sure ... that the child's voice is always heard," Podkul said.
In the case of the boy Avenatti is representing, both the boy - who is being identified only by his first name, Antony - and his mother have said they want to be reunited in Guatemala as quickly as possible, said Ricardo de Anda, the attorney working with Avenatti on the case.