Sac Bee: Young immigrants would get $3 million in legal help under California bill

August 21, 2014

By: Jeremy White

Young immigrants poised to flood California's courts could get extra legal help under a bill offering $3 million to bolster legal services.

An extraordinary influx of young, unaccompanied minors into the country has dominated the national debate over immigration policy in recent months, setting President Barack Obama against congressional Republicans and prompting calls for action from California lawmakers.

Some of those state legislators have already spotlighted the issue, visiting a Ventura County naval base serving as a temporary detention center to survey living conditions for the immigrants housed there. In remarks to the press after the tour lawmakers emphasized ensuring the new arrivals get full legal hearings as they face potential deportations.

“I think we all came away with a feeling that these kids really needed our support, that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, told reporters on Thursday.

The newly announced bill would set aside $3 million that would be distributed to nonprofit organizations that offer legal services. Many of the immigrants pressing their cases could be seeking refugee status.

“We all know that children are more likely to be deported if they don’t have legal representation in immigration court,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, told reporters. “As a former immigration lawyer, we know that cases of asylum or refugee status in immigration court (are) complex.”

The bill represents California's most significant effort to respond to what remains a federal issue. Until now state lawmakers had offered largely symbolic gestures like a resolution calling for humane treatment of the young immigrants.

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.

In addition to allocating money, the bill would clarify that California courts have the authority to confer a designation known as “special immigrant juvenile status” that speeds the naturalization process, according to a press release from Brown’s office.

As an urgency measure included in a budget cleanup bill, the legislation would take effect immediately. Atkins' office said the money would hopefully become available within a few weeks.


Contact: Jeremy White / (916) 326-5543 /