By Justin Sink - 08/06/14 05:08 PM EDT
Vice President Biden on Wednesday urged attorneys and legal groups to donate their time and resources to representing the large number of unaccompanied minors caught crossing the border.
The vice president during a meeting at the White House called the border crisis “the single most significant, heart-wrenching and divisive thing that’s happening in terms of the immigration debate right now.”
"That’s where you all come in. We need lawyers, we need trained lawyers, to determine whether or not these kids meet the criteria for refugee status,” Biden said.
Children who enter the country from countries other than Mexico and Canada are eligible for asylum hearings. But that process can take months, and because deportation is a civil — rather than criminal — proceeding, migrant children aren't guaranteed access to an attorney.
Biden said recruiting attorneys was important because Central American countries are not able to address rampant crime and violence, and some of the children may legitimately be eligible for asylum.
He also warned that smugglers were cynically exploiting fears of violence and encouraging families to send their children across the border.
“Something is happening beyond the fact that there is utter despair. That despair existed a year ago and 18 months ago,” Biden said.
The vice president criticized Congress for not passing legislation to help the administration deal with the surge of children before leaving for recess.
“Hell, Congress can’t even decide on a gas tax to keep the highway system going," Biden said.
The vice president said the administration was scrambling to figure out how to address the issue without additional money, and that a key part was tapping into the talents of the private sector.