Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday announced a new program aimed at ensuring that illegal immigrant children who cross into the U.S. without a parent or guardian have legal representation in the United States.
Holder announced an initiative called “justice AmeriCorps,” a grant program mean to let about 100 lawyers and paralegals provide legal services to these children. Holder said it’s a response to Congress’ request that the Justice Department “better serve vulnerable populations such as children and improve court efficiency through pilot efforts aimed at improving legal representation.”
The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress earlier this year included $315 million for the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, and asked that office to broadly improve its efforts to educate detained people about immigration rules and detention processes.
Holder’s announcement was made at the same time U.S. border officials are reporting a surge of children trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. Officials estimate that border patrol officers could apprehend more than 100,000 children trying to cross to the U.S. by next year.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R ) warned President Barack Obama in a recent letter that a surge of illegal minors is threatening other border patrol priorities, like drug interdiction.
Holder’s move was likely to be seen by Republicans as another possible incentive for more illegal children to try entering the country. One Republican aide reiterated past GOP complaints that the Obama administration often appears willing to help non-U.S. citizens more than it wants to help citizens.
“Why doesn’t the Obama administration hire lawyers for the American citizens who are losing their jobs?” he said.
But the Justice Department said the step is needed to help vulnerable children.
“How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings – many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking – goes to the core of who we are as a nation,” Holder said.
Justice also said officials believe the program will help identify children who were victims of trafficking and abuse, and assist in the prosecution of those traffickers and abusers.