Flood of Immigrant Children Need Lawyers, Advocates Say

New bill introduced in Congress would force U.S. to provide legal representation for flood of children who migrated illegally

By the train loads, thousands and thousands of young children are fleeing danger in their home countries for a life of freedom in the United States.

But the influx at the border with Mexico has reached what President Barack Obama has called a “humanitarian crisis.”

Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents the 32nd District that includes Claremont and Pasadena, said Sunday “This has to stop and the young people have to have somewhere to go.”

In the shadow of the Washington D.C. mall, local representatives including Chu stood firm on new legislation that could turn the tide on unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. illegally.

The bill would help those coming across the border with legal representation for their individual immigration cases, if it passes.

“People would be shocked to know that there is actually now legal representation for these young people and they are often times in immigration court facing an ICE prosecution attorney and they’re just defending themselves,” Chu said.

Chu was one of a group of Democrats who introduced the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said the bill was the right thing to do.

“These are children. And children, no matter where they come from, need to be taken care of,” she said. “That they would leave their countries with fear of their life on their own the least we can do is provide them legal assistance."

There has been a massive increase in the number of children and adolescents making the dangerous desert trek alone, without family, officials say.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings along.

This year, that number is expected to swell to 60,000.

Many of the children, some as young as five years old, have been left to stand alone in those moments, and yet those with the means for an attorney tend to create stronger cases for asylum.

“At the very least there should be some entity that is advising these kids of their rights,” Chu said.
Opponents point to the cost of providing lawyers to those who arrived in the U.S. illegally.

Chu says it’s a topic she’s discussed with other congressional leaders, saying the move could actually save federal dollars.

“They’re detained for a long time and actually detention is longer and more costly than it is to have them go through some sort of legal procedure.”

Some opponents argue it's not a fair system.

The people that are here in California that get caught should be processed in California. The people in Texas should be processed in Texas. The people in Arizona should be processed in Arizona," Murrieta resident Tony Boyd said. "I think that's a more fair system."

Fifteen-year-old Bryan Alvarez of Bell Gardens made the dangerous trek alone from El Salvador. He got lucky, he said, when local immigration attorney Nelson Castillo took his case pro-bono as part of the nonprofit KIND or, "kids in need of defense."

“When immigration got me, that was the only scary part I remember,” Alvarez said.

Castillo said the VIVA bill is an immediate remedy to a very long process that becomes more complicated when kids can't defend themselves.

“We have seen it coming for some time,” Castillo said of the growing problem.

“The key is for us not to rush to judgment for political expediency and not give an opportunity to somebody to voice their story in a proper way,” he said.

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