Congresswoman: Give Those Border Kids An Attorney

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas, in June. (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas, in June. (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and 54 of her House colleagues have introduced a bill that would provide government-appointed attorneys to help them navigate the immigration asylum process. The Los Angeles Times, in a detailed report, says that “… Eleven California Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Lofgren is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.”

The newspaper explains that “… because being present in the U.S. illegally is a civil offense, there is no right to an attorney during immigration or asylum proceedings. That means many children stand alone before an immigration judge when they ask to stay in this country.” When unaccompanied children started arriving at the border in large numbers a couple of years ago, it is worth noting, they often did not sneak into the country but sought asylum at the border. We have called them “Border kids.”

Now the San Jose Democrat and 54 of her House colleagues have put forth a bill to argue that, at a minimum, children and people with certain disabilities should have government-appointed attorneys to help them navigate the asylum process. Eleven California Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Lofgren is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

The U.S. Senate’s lone former immigration lawyer, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), has co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It remains unclear if any Republicans will support the bill.

Read the well-researched L.A. Times story here: ‘We have a moral obligation': Lawmakers want the U.S. to provide attorneys for immigrant children

‘Rocket Dockets’ Set For Border-Children Immigration

The federal government is creating “rocket dockets” to process unaccompanied border children, hoping to slow the flow of children by showing a policy of quick returns. Critics are responding that the new practice moves too quickly in a system inadequate to provide legally required court oversight and without a system for legal representation. 
 
The U.K.-based Guardian newspaper has a good overview, reporting that “.. under normal rules, the recent arrivals would have queued at the tail-end of a backlogged system where migrants wait months or years for hearings at overstretched immigration courts… instead, with Republicans accusing the president of neglecting border security, the administration vaulted the newly arrived children to the front of the line, and said they would have initial court hearings within 21 days.”
 
They also cite a California-based critic: “We appreciate the government’s attempt to deal with these [new] cases expeditiously, but not to this extreme. We think 21 days is too fast. Maybe 60 days would be preferable,” said Caitlin Sanderson, director of the Los Angeles-based Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, which has staff attorneys representing about 270 children pro bono.