Claiming that as many as half of the illegal immigrant children flooding across the border may have legitimate cases to stay in America, House Democrats introduced legislation Monday to give them taxpayer-funded lawyers to maximize their chances of not being deported.
Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Karen Bass (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014 (VIVA), which “would provide appointed legal counsel for unaccompanied minors and disabled individuals during immigration proceedings.”
“Some of the children who have come to this country may not have a valid legal basis to remain, but some will,” Jeffries said. “Yet, it is virtually impossible for a child to assert a valid claim under immigration law in the absence of legal representation… It is a fantasy to believe that unrepresented children have a fair shot in an immigration proceeding.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has estimated that 90,000 unaccompanied minors will try to enter the country this year, and there have already been 52,000 illegal immigrant children who have entered the country from October of last year to June 15 of this year. The majority of the illegal immigrant children were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Democrats said most of the illegal immigrant children are not aware of the technicalities they can use to stay in the country, and that is why they need the taxpayer-funded legal representation.
Illegal immigrant children can claim asylum, attempt to gain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), or seek a “U Visa.” SIJS is “available to certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents,” and it allows illegal immigrant children to get “green cards that allow them to live and work permanently in the United States.”
A “U Visa,” which is available “to minors who have been the victims of certain serious crimes, suffered mental or physical trauma and are cooperating with a law enforcement investigation,” allows illegal immigrant children to gain “temporary legal status and work eligibility for a maximum of 4 years.”
The Obama administration previously announced $2 million in grants to provide to illegal immigrant children who are awaiting hearings with lawyers, and, as Reuters noted, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in 2013 has similar provisions to provide illegal immigrant children with taxpayer-funded lawyers.
Despite the Obama administration’s recent claims to Central American leaders that illegal immigrant children are not eligible for amnesty, parents in Central America who have sent their children to America have said they did so believing that their children would be allowed to remain in the United States if they made it across the border, especially since Obama has said he would unilaterally ease deportations with executive actions.
Some illegal immigrants have even been flagging down Border Patrol agents so they can get what they believe are “permisos” to allow them to remain in the country indefinitely. The permits are notices that require illegal immigrants to appear before officials within 15 to 90 days, but a “vast majority” of illegal immigrants are not even showing up to these hearings.
According to Gallup, two in three Americans disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling the immigration issue, and critics of the Obama administration have accused the White House of exploiting illegal immigrant children to advance its political agenda, which includes massive grants of amnesty to illegal immigrants.