SoCal lawmakers want legal counsel for unaccompanied minors

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Federal officials estimate 90 thousand children will try to cross the border by the end of this year – kids making the journey without a parent or adult. Today, a trio of southern California Congresswoman introduced a bill that would provide legal representation for those minors in immigration proceedings. 

Some of the children illegally crossing the border may have a valid claim to stay in the United States. They could be granted legal asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu of El Monte cites the story of Belkis Rivera of Honduras. When she was six, local gang members killed her grandmother and uncle and demanded brothers join gang. Her mother took the boys and came to America, leaving Belkis behind. Years later, they threatened her. She made a six month journey through Mexico and was caught by the Border Patrol. But young people like Belkis aren’t guaranteed legal counsel to make an asylum claim.

Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles says we live in a country that guarantees legal representation to murderers, drug dealers, and gang members. She says "vulnerable migrant children" go before a judge, "unable to navigate a complex immigration system that confuses even adults with law degrees." She labels that "un-American."

Chu, Roybal-Allard, and LA Democrat Karen Bass have joined other House Democrats to introduce the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act. Chu insists lawyers would reduce the number of days of immigration procedures, saving American taxpayers two billion dollars a year.

The bill has no Republican co-sponsors. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach says "our hearts go out to people who have come here with unrealistic expectations," but blames the problem on lawmakers who back policies that suggest coming to the United States illegally confers legal status. 

Legal representation for minors is not a new issue: a Senate committee, chaired by Ted Kennedy, held a hearing on the topic back in 2002. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a series of measures since then, providing pro-bono legal representation for these children “where possible.” Similar language was included in at least four bills that passed the Senate, including most recently the comprehensive immigration measure passed last year. None of these measures have passed the GOP-led House. 


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