California state officials and lawmakers have introduced a plan that would provide money for pro-bono legal assistance to recently arrived unaccompanied child migrants now living in California.
The legislation proposes providing $3 million to qualifying non-profits to provide legal help for unaccompanied child minors, the majority of whom land in the immigration court system without legal representation. It was announced Thursday by Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and members of the state Senate and Assembly.
“These young people have legal rights and responsibilities, but they cannot fully participate in complex immigration proceedings without an attorney,” said Harris, according to a statement from the governor's press office. “It is critical that these children, many of whom are fleeing extreme violence in Central America, have access to due process and adequate legal representation.”
The recent influx of child migrants from Central America, many seeking asylum, has overburdened the pro-bono and low-cost legal providers that serve immigrant communities. Few families can afford attorneys on their own, and there aren't enough non-profit legal service providers to go around, said Kevin Johnson is dean of the UC Davis School of Law.
"What's happened is people are fully taxed out in doing their charity work and the next thing you know, you get thousands more minors coming to this country needing legal help, and they don't have money to pay for legal help," Johnson said. "It is beyond what the public interest sector and pro bono attorneys can handle."
The extra money would help firms that do pro-bono work hire staff, at least short-term, Johnson said.
In addition to funding, the legislation also proposes clarifying rules as to the jurisdiction of state courts in these cases. State courts can make decisions regarding child custody and other issues pertaining to children's immigration cases, for example, when children are applying to stay in the country legally under what's known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which applies to minors who have been abused or neglected by their parents.