Bill would provide lawyers to children crossing border

 

A group of House Democrats has introduced legislation that would provide lawyers for unaccompanied minors who cross the United States border.

The Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014, H.R. 4936, would provide legal representation during immigration proceedings to minors who come to the U.S. alone and to mentally disabled people.

“Some of the children who have come to this country may not have a valid legal basis to remain, but some will. Yet, it is virtually impossible for a child to assert a valid claim under immigration law in the absence of legal representation,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor, at the bill’s unveiling on Monday. 

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Child immigrants can either claim asylum; claim a special status if they're under 21 and have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents; or seek a visa if they are victims of serious crimes.

“Most undocumented children are not aware of the claims they can make in immigration court,” a release from Jeffries’s office said. “The claims are technically available without counsel, but it is highly unlikely these children can vindicate their rights absent legal representation.” 

Other co-sponsors include Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Lucile Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.). They said the current “humanitarian crisis” on the border prompted them to write the legislation.

Since October, about 50,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed into the U.S. through Mexico after escaping violence in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The House lawmakers noted that the Department of Homeland Security has warned 90,000 unaccompanied children could try to enter the U.S. by the end of the year.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify about the border crisis at a hearing Tuesday before the House Homeland Security Committee. Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the same issue Wednesday. 

Johnson will travel to Nogales, Ariz., on Wednesday to visit U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities to assess the government’s response to the influx of children at the border, Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard announced Tuesday.

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