How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Federal grants help LA's child migrants navigate the legal system



A child remains near to the railroad as the train known as "La Bestia," or The Beast, goes by in Arriaga, Chiapas state, Mexico. As more recently arrived child migrants from Central America navigate the crowded U.S. immigration court system, the federal government is kicking in money to help provide them with legal representation.

Recently arrived child migrants in Los Angeles will be among those who benefit from legal help paid for by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency, which is charged with sheltering child migrants and reuniting them with family in the United States, has announced two grants totaling roughly $4.2 million, earmarked for children’s legal counsel in the coming year. HHS officials have proposed spending $9 million over the next two years to help cover legal representation for some 2,600 unaccompanied migrant children.

The grants were awarded to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those organizations will choose the providers in selected U.S. cities, including Los Angeles.

One local legal provider, the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles, has already learned it will receive grant funds.  That extra money will allow it to double its legal staff and take on more cases, said program director Caitlin Sanderson.


In immigration news: Child migrants without legal counsel, Arizona driver's license appeal, Asian American GOP group, more

Immigration court sketch 2

Graham Clark

A sketch of a teenage girl from Guatemala appearing in immigration court in Los Angeles recently. Many recently arrived child migrants having their cases heard in immigration court have no attorney; state and federal initiatives plan funds for more access.

As Child Immigrants Await Fate, a Race for Counsel - Wall Street Journal On how many child migrants now having their cases heard in immigration court have no attorney, with pro-bono legal providers stretched thin. From the story: "Just under half of the children appearing before the New York City Immigration Court have no attorney, according to The Legal Aid Society...Advocates said the caseloads are overwhelming, sometimes exceeding 60 children per attorney." In California, a measure that would provide some funding for counsel was just signed into law.

U.S. government to help pay migrant kids' legal bills - USA Today The federal Department of Health and Human Services, charged with housing and reuniting child migrants with family members in the U.S., has announced that it plans to spend $9 million over the coming two years to provide about 2,600 of these children and teens with legal counsel. The funds will "help support programs that provide legal services to children caught crossing the border illegally and who are applying for asylum or other forms of protection from deportation."


In immigration news: Arizona policies in court, Obamacare coverage, driver's licenses

A U.S. Border Patrol Agent in September 2011, along the Mexico-Arizona border.

Joshua Lott/Reuters /Landov

The Obama administration is to weigh in on two Arizona immigration policies in the court system.

Obama Administration Faces Immigration Deadline - Associated Press  The Obama administration is expected to ask the courts to throw out two Arizona state policies addressing illegal immigration. One policy denies driver's licenses to immigrants who have gotten deportation deferrals through an Obama program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The other measure is the state's law on smuggling immigrants.

HHS is kicking immigrants off Obamacare coverage without fair warning, complaints allege - Washington Post (blog) New federal complaints say many of the immigrants who are poised to lose ObamaCare coverage on Tuesday hadn't received proper warning.  Immigrant rights' advocates say that notices from the Department of Health and Human Services asking for documentation that enrollees were legally in the US were only distributed in English and Spanish, leaving out a large segment of immigrants who speak other languages.


California to provide $3M in legal services for unaccompanied immigrant children

Immigration court sketch 1

Graham Clark

A sketch of a 17-year-old boy from Mexico who appeared recently in immigration court in Los Angeles. A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown is to provide $3 million to nonprofits for legal assistance to child migrants. But it’s not expected to ease pressure on backlogged immigration courts.

A bill signed on Saturday by California Gov. Jerry Brown will provide $3 million to qualifying nonprofits to offer free legal assistance for child migrants. Nonprofit legal service providers handling the cases of recently-arrived child migrants from Central America say the demand for pro-bono help is huge, especially since many of the children are seeking asylum. 

“If you go to the court, you’ll see many, many children showing up, and being told to come back with a lawyer, and yet they can’t," said Judy London, an attorney with the pro bono firm Public Counsel in Los Angeles, which is representing about 50 migrant kids. "There is nowhere they can go. The kinds of agencies that do this work have hundreds of children on waiting lists.”

Roughly half the children and teens who arrived recently from Central America and are now facing deportation in the court system don't have legal representation, London said. Many of them fled gang violence in their native countries are seeking asylum. But without counsel, she said, their chances of being able to stay legally are slim.


Immigrants without legal status able to apply for professional licenses in CA

Sergio Garcia speaks at The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) news conference on Aug. 27. Garcia, 36, is a law school graduate who passed California's bar examination, but he's living in the United States illegally. California

Nick Ut/AP

Advocates say the new law was inspired in part by Sergio Garcia, an immigrant in the country illegally who was issued a law license after the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor earlier this year.

Immigrants in the country illegally can apply for professional licenses under a new California law that aims to integrate them into the working world and generate new tax dollars for the state.

The new law - SB 1159 - requires all 40 licensing boards under the California Department of Consumer Affairs to consider applicants regardless of immigration status by 2016.

The law change follows a landmark state Supreme Court case earlier this year in which justices ruled that lawyer Sergio Garcia should be admitted to the California bar despite lacking legal status.

Denisse Rojas, who's applying to medical school, said the new law is a huge relief for students pursuing careers that require licenses, such as medicine and dentistry. 

"For there to be something in legislation in California that says immigration status shouldn't prohibit someone from obtaining a professional license — that's extremely beneficial, " said Rojas, a 25-year-old University of California, Berkeley graduate and a student leader in Pre-Health Dreamers.