Cal­i­for­nia shel­ter for im­mi­grant chil­dren de­nies them at­tor­neys

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY KATE IRBY [email protected]

The fed­eral govern­ment is deny­ing le­gal as­sis­tance to child mi­grants liv­ing at a Modesto shel­ter, ac­cord­ing to ad­vo­cates who worry the kids will suf­fer un­nec­es­sar­ily with­out ac­cess to at­tor­neys.

Com­plaints about the site, which has been open for less than two months, reached Rep. Josh Harder, D-Tur­lock, who on Tues­day sent a let­ter to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ask­ing ques­tions about ser­vices there.

The mi­grants in the Modesto fa­cil­ity are preg­nant teens, teen moth­ers and their chil­dren, with ages rang­ing from tod­dlers to teenagers. It houses up to a dozen mi­grants at a time and has been op­er­at­ing for about two months. It is cur­rently hous­ing six im­mi­grant chil­dren.

“The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to guar­an­tee th­ese kids have the help they’re legally en­ti­tled to,” Harder said. “Lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions have done the best they can in fill­ing in the gaps, but that’s not their job – it’s up to the fed­eral govern­ment to fix this. We need an­swers.”

Mi­grant shel­ters are re­quired by law to make at­tor­neys avail­able and Con­gress re­cently al­lo­cated $100 mil­lion for im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated ser­vices in­clud­ing le­gal as­sis­tance for child im­mi­grants.

“Think­ing of any­one going to an im­mi­gra­tion hear­ing with­out an at­tor­ney, let alone a child, is to­tally ab­surd,” said Jennifer Pod­kul, in­terim vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy at Kids in Need of De­fense, which of­fers pro bono help to the chil­dren in the Modesto fa­cil­ity and has con­tracted with the govern­ment at other mi­grant de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

The im­mi­grants in Modesto wind up there af­ter they’ve been de­tained at Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment fa­cil­i­ties. The im­mi­gra­tion agency must re­lease chil­dren from de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties within three weeks, but of­fi­cials can trans­fer them to the cus­tody of the Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment.

That depart­ment hires lo­cal child­care fa­cil­i­ties, such as the one in Modesto, to house the un­ac­com­pa­nied child mi­grants for longer pe­ri­ods.

The refugee re­set­tle­ment of­fice said it would not be able to comment by press time in re­sponse to McClatchy’s ques­tions.

A spokesper­son for Bethany Chris­tian Ser­vices, which runs the Modesto shel­ter un­der a con­tract with the refugee re­set­tle­ment of­fice, said it has asked the fed­eral govern­ment about pro­vid­ing at­tor­neys to the chil­dren. The spokesman said the non­profit has not re­ceived clear an­swers.

Bethany runs one other im­mi­grant shel­ter in Michi­gan, where the spokesman said it has had no is­sues with con­tracted le­gal ser­vices.

Pod­kul’s or­ga­ni­za­tion has been pro­vid­ing le­gal as­sis­tance to mi­grants in Modesto, be­cause Bethany — not govern­ment of­fi­cials — asked for help.

But there’s a dif­fer­ence in qual­ity be­tween the vol­un­teer at­tor­neys from Kids in Need of De­fense and con­tracted le­gal ser­vices, she added. Vol­un­teer lawyers typ­i­cally are not im­mi­gra­tion lawyers, but at­tor­neys who prac­tice in other ar­eas such as tax law who are will­ing to help.

Vol­un­teer at­tor­neys from Kids in Need of De­fense have been trav­el­ing from Fresno or San Fran­cisco to work with the chil­dren in Modesto. None of the mi­grants housed there has had an im­mi­gra­tion hear­ing in front of a judge, Pod­kul said.

Pod­kul said cases move faster when mi­grants have ac­cess to con­tracted at­tor­neys. Some­times im­mi­grants just need an at­tor­ney to ex­plain their op­tions and they choose to re­turn to their home coun­tries, free­ing up space on a court docket.

“The govern­ment talks about try­ing to ex­pe­dite th­ese pro­ceed­ings, but they’re shoot­ing them­selves in the foot,” Pod­kul said. “Th­ese chil­dren hav­ing ac­cess to an at­tor­ney is the best way to ex­pe­dite a case.”

There are two other mi­grant de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties for chil­dren that re­port­edly have not pro­vided le­gal ser­vices, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

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