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$3 Million In State Legal Aid Proposed For Undocumented Children

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (left) and Sens. Kevin de Leon, Norma Torres and Ricardo Lara discuss legislation that would provide $3 million in legal aid for undocumented migrant children in California on Thursday at the state Capitol.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders say they’ll make $3 million in legal aid available for undocumented minors who have migrated from Central America.

The legal aid comes in response to the recent surge in migrant children illegally entering the U.S. from Central America.

The undocumented children held in detention in California will soon face state and federal court hearings. They’ll need to prove they would be in danger if they were sent back to their home country in order to avoid deportation from the U.S.

To do that, advocates say, the children need lawyers – and the non-profit organizations that provide legal aid to undocumented immigrants can’t keep up with the surge in migrant kids.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) says the $3 million from California’s general fund would go to non-profit organizations already providing undocumented immigrants with legal aid.

“They saw this as a crisis; they already had case loads, struggling to do this. These resources are going to help them actually do more and take on these cases,” Atkins says.

“A kid is a kid is a kid,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “It doesn’t matter – it shouldn’t matter – their immigration status. We need to go out of our way to make sure that children are safe and give them every benefit of the doubt when it comes to their petition to stay here.”

Republicans say they agree there’s a problem but need to see the bill language before they can decide how best to respond.

“There’s no question that far too many undocumented children are arriving in the United States unaccompanied by a parent or guardian,” Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said in a statement. “As the governor noted, members of the legislature have not yet received the language of his proposed bill, and we need to have time to review it in detail in order to determine the right course of action.”

The legislation will move forward next week. It does not need Republican votes to pass.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio