Could California’s Migrant Children be Poised to Get Legal Help?

Imagine being nine years old, fleeing violence, poverty and other social problems in your home nation. You’ve arrived at a new country billed as the promised land, only to be swept into a detention facility with horrific conditions, and now, you’re facing off against a judge in court. You don’t understand the language, you don’t know why you’re in court, and you’re all alone, without a lawyer. When the gavel falls with your deportation order, you still don’t understand what just happened.

That’s something many undocumented immigrant children don’t have to imagine, because it’s a situation they’re experiencing every day. The United States is experiencing an unprecedented flood of undocumented children and the court and immigration systems are struggling to keep up — but because immigrants are not guaranteed legal representation while working their way through court, many of those children are facing judges without legal advocates.

Even with pro bono and public service organizations working to protect kids in court, the sheer number of children is overwhelming the number of people available to provide support services, and children are experiencing the brunt of the problem.

That’s why the Obama Administration just announced a pro bono branch of Americorps focused on offering legal representation to immigrants, and why California has unveiled an attachment to a budget bill that would set aside $3 million for funding immigration support services for children. The proposed bill would route the funds to firms and organizations that offer pro bono immigration law services to help them hire and pay staff who can go to court on behalf of immigrant children to help them get fair representation. The bill was brought about partially in response to a fact-finding visit to an immigration detention center, where legislators were disturbed by what they saw.

This marks an important moment for California lawmakers, as they’ve offered up statements on the issue, but haven’t moved with concrete action to address the number of children clogging immigration courts. The bill also critically recognizes that in addition to being a fundamental miscarriage of justice in a nation where everyone should have legal representation, the failure to match children with attorneys can be fatal, as children fleeing violence and dangerous living conditions who are deported back home are at serious personal risk. The state’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, also supports the bill. Legislators have just days to act on it, as California’s lawmakers adjourn on the 31st of this month.

In addition to directing services at children in court, the bill has some important caveats for state courts. It requires courts to facilitate the review of immigration cases (a requirement before they can be taken on in federal courts). It also provides more options for child custody decisions made by state courts, allowing them to act quickly in cases of parental abuse and other special situations.

California’s legislators will essentially have to pass the bill if they want the state’s budget to successfully pass, and lawmakers are confident that it will succeed even if every state Republican votes against it — and many of the state’s GOP lawmakers are displeased with the bill. Once it passes, California will be setting a blueprint for other states struggling with immigrant children to follow, and perhaps states like Texas and Arizona will follow suit to ensure justice for immigrant children.


Photo credit: Elvert Barnes.


John S.
Past Member 1 years ago

Not the brightest idea, but it is California. But when a state does something like this, they should recieve less federal money as they obvousl;y have enough.

Donna N.
Donna N.1 years ago

MarilynBusyW, you have listened to Faux Noise too much! Your senior benefits ARE NOT being cut! BTW, over 6,000,000 dollars are paid into SS each year by illegals who will NEVER collect it, but the US government started borrowing and redoing the budget using SS money as part of the budget. Sorry you did a poor job of learning US History. BTW, it looks like you need to learn to use American English instead of British English.
Yes, I am being being a wise-cracker, on that last statement. You might really be surprised just how many illegals work at jobs and do pay into Social Security and taxes, and they do not claim they. Most people have no idea that happens. What I would like to know is why won't Americans go out and pick the tomatoes, the peaches, the cucumbers, the strawberries? That is a very serious question I am asking.. California farmers and Michigan farmers cannot get Americans to pick; it is hard, hard labor. I know because I did it in the 60's to help put food on the table in the summer when I wasn't paid. I did it with my children playing at the fields with the Mexican children. I could NOT pick as fast and I could not pick the number of hours that the migrants did.
A grocery chain refuses to pay tomato pickers another penny a pound; they say they can't afford it, that people won't pay more for tomatoes. Would you pay 99 cents a pound instead of 98 cents? Most people would. Stores say they would have to add on too much to the price of fresh produ

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Aurea Walker

Ooopppppsss Arizona HAS such blatant racism!

Aurea Walker

@MarilynBusy W - you came from Canada, not quite the same as narcotrafficante infested Mexico and Central America where people not only fear for their lives but simply not starving to death. You work as a producer of children's programming yet have this attitude towards these innocent children, shame on you! Perhaps Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio are contagious or what is it about Arizona that had such blatant racism?

Aurea Walker

Sydney M - I do have enourmous empathy for your situation and do hope you find suitable employement in your field with appropriate remuneration. Just remember one thing though, our economic catastrophe was NOT caused by immigrants! Start to see the big picture, aside from two wars that asshole Cheney & Bush started it was also further impacted by the MASS outsourcing of jobs. Does Bain capital mean anything to you? You know that little company owned in part by Mr. 47% Romney, yes THAT Romney who would not show his tax return. Or how about all the machinations by Wall Street, the mortgage lending Ponzi scheme by banks. It is all too convenient to put the onus on the immigrants coming to the USA with or without visas. We are talking about children and young adults whose parents are desperate to protect and save their children. I could go on but sometimes it is so much easier to coast by on the limited faux news bullshit fed to people instead of the truth. MarilynbusyW - try a little empathy, as an immigrant, you of all people should understand. You blather on about how you came here legally, what if you feared for your life or the life of your children. Please feel free to attack my points with FACTS not FEELINGS!

1 years ago

Well said Sydney M...and I wish good luck to you in finding a good job very quickly!!

Sydney M
Sydney M1 years ago

For those folks who have not been affected by this horrible ongoing global recession (i.e. haven't lost their jobs or had their hours cut back, etc), I don't expect any of you to understand how all of this illegal activity affects the rest of us (especially those of us who reside in border states). For those of us who HAVE been affected by the recession, another flood or illegal immigrants is hardly what we need just now. My family immigrated to the U.S.A. LEGALLY when I was only 3. Now I'm a middle-aged adult, unemployed ~ not only because the job market in California is one of the worst in the nation, but also because there are a number of professions in the state of California that are mostly looking for Spanish speaking candidates. I feel as if I'm living in Northern Mexico and no longer the United States of America. So, while I watch Spanish speaking immigrants ~ both legal and illegal taking all the jobs in California ~ while I struggle just to stay afloat ~ is hardly the "American Dream" that those of us who are LEGALLY here imagined !!!! Jobs for Americans and Legal Immigrant Residents First; then we can worry about the rest who have clearly broken the law !!!!!!!!!!!

Muff-Anne York-Haley

Hmm, I don't know what to make of this!

1 years ago

It seems that some people don't think it's wrong to take food out of the mouths of our own children {who are the children of citizens struggling to make a legal living if they can}....and encourage criminals to break our laws.
There's nothing selfish or me-me-me about that! It's hardly appropriate to insult people for believing that charity begins at home when we have enough problems with poverty without importing more people who have no regard for the laws of this country.

If people can't take care of their own children, why are they giving birth to them? (...and that applies to our own citizens too)
If they're paying ($10,000) to coyotes to smuggle them across a legal border, why are they not using that $10,000 to start a business or educate their children in their own land?

Coyotes are not cheap!...and the money they make is not used to feed or house their needy citizens!!

The problems being caused by stolen identity takes our citizens YEARS of expensive legal hassles to fix! How can you wish this upon people and then have the gall to say we're crying 'me-me-me' because we don't agree that we have to solve Mexico's political problems!? Maybe when your ID is stolen and your SS is cut in half and leaves you too poor to buy food AND whatever medicine you might need and you have no options but to make a choice that will jeopardize your life one way or the other.... then maybe you'll learn something.