SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Obama administration is spending $4 million on lawyers for unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings, a move an influential Republican lawmaker says is illegal and will fuel an increase in illegal immigration.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, said Tuesday that it is the first time the office that oversees programs for unaccompanied immigrant children will provide money for direct legal representation.
The grants to two organizations are part of a bigger $9 million project to provide lawyers to 2,600 children. The move comes after the number of unaccompanied Central American children arriving on the U.S.-Mexico border more than doubled this past year, many of them fleeing violence.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the funding violates federal law “and only makes the problem worse by encouraging more illegal immigration in the future.” He urged the government to focus its efforts on deterring future border-crossers.
Most of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in the past year don’t have attorneys, and immigrant advocates have been scrambling to secure funding, and ramp up efforts to recruit and train pro bono lawyers to take on their cases.
After being detained by federal authorities, children are placed in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, including one in New Mexico, until they can be released to a relative or sponsor in the U.S.
The children are then given a date to appear in immigration court for deportation proceedings, though many will seek to remain by applying for asylum or other forms of immigration relief.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration initiated a program to give refugee status to some young people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in response to the influx of unaccompanied minors.
Under the program, immigrants from those countries who are lawfully in the U.S. will be able to request that child relatives still in those three countries be resettled in the U.S. as refugees. The program would establish in-country processing to screen the young people to determine if they qualify to join relatives in the U.S.
In a memo to the State Department on Tuesday, Obama allocated 4,000 slots for refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean for next year. That is a fraction of the number of children who have already crossed into the United States and are awaiting deportation proceedings.