Advocates fear unaccompanied minors lack immigration attorneys

While President Barack Obama visited Texas on Wednesday focusing on unaccompanied minors crisis, many on both sides of the immigration debate are unhappy with his handling…
Advocates fear unaccompanied minors lack immigration attorneys

President Barack Obama met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Dallas to talk about immigration and the unaccompanied minors crisis, but critics say nothing is being done to address the lack of immigration attorneys for the minors and are worried that the heavy case load for immigration courts. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

While President Barack Obama visited Texas on Wednesday focusing on unaccompanied minors crisis, many on both sides of the immigration debate are unhappy with his handling of the influx of undocumented children, especially immigrant advocacy groups who say not enough resources are being dedicated to providing the children attorneys and legal resources.

Despite his visit to Dallas, President Obama did not visit the border towns considered the main arrival points of the undocumented children–something local leaders and immigrant advocacy groups have asked the President to do. Furthermore, political opposition to his $3.7 billion request to help process these undocumented children has hardened, making a solution to the humanitarian crisis seem more elusive.

Detractors from both parties fear that the Obama administration is using the detention of mostly Central American children as a deterrence to prevent more from coming into the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Protesters block buses carrying unaccompanied minors

Immigration advocates such as Megan McKenna, advocacy director of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), say more resources should be going toward the hiring of attorneys and judges to ensure the children have a day in court and are able to seek immigration relief.

“I think that judges are very committed to full and fair adjudication, so I don’t believe that they would feel forced to or that they would move cases more quickly as a result of some outside pressure,” said McKenna, who also serves as communications director for KIND.

They also worry that the administration is more focused on the enforcement and border security aspects of the situation, instead of approaching the issue from a humanitarian perspective. Aside from hiring more attorneys and judges, they would like the administration to invest more funds on addressing the root causes that are driving children to come to the U.S. in the first place.

“It’s important that we address this as a humanitarian issue, not a border security issue,” said McKenna.

Shifting cases around “would only shift the problem elsewhere,” said Michelle Brané, Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission for the Migrant Rights & Justice Program.

“You’ll get to the children but everybody else will be delayed further,” she said. “I think we all recognize that long court delays and backlogs are a problem, and we need to address that problem in the long term and not just for this crisis.”

She worries that the Obama administration doesn’t believe  large percentages of unaccompanied minors will qualify for some sort of relief. Cecilia Muñoz told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the administration believed the majority of cases won’t qualify for relief.

But child advocates say that’s contrary to what a recent report by the United Nations refugee agency found. The report titled “Children on the Run” shows that the large majority of the more than 400 unaccompanied children from Central America who were interviewed believed they would remain unsafe in their home countries.

“I would hope that the judges have the integrity to handle the cases as they should be under law,” said Brané.

This is a problem that was longtime coming and it needs a long-term solution: “This can’t be a you hire judges for one or two years and then you go back to the old numbers.”

SEE ALSO: Obama wants to speed up removal of unaccompanied minors

In Washington, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,  said he could not support the president’s spending request, even though he has supported Obama’s stalled efforts to reform the nation’s immigration laws.

“I cannot vote for a provision which will then just perpetuate an unacceptable humanitarian crisis that’s taking place on our southern border,” McCain said on the Senate floor, where he was joined by fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

“Amnesty is unfolding before our very eyes,” Cruz said.

The Associated Press reported a group of civil liberties organizations filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, arguing the federal government has failed to provide minors with immigration attorneys.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski testifies about the unaccompanied minors crisis.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on the unaccompanied minors crisis.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Even some Democrats said Obama should visit the border to see the situation first-hand.

“Going out there and talking to people who live this day in and day out — that’s the perspective that’s missing,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.

The White House didn’t heed the call.  Obama flew to Dallas to discuss the issue at a closed-door meeting with Perry and others.

The Department of Justice did announce that it was taking steps to deal with processing the children in a more efficient manner.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced “that the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) will refocus its resources to prioritize cases involving migrants who have recently crossed the southwest border and whom DHS has placed into removal proceedings — so that these cases are processed both quickly and fairly to enable prompt removal in appropriate cases, while ensuring the protection of asylum seekers and others.”

Despite this, many advocates fear that a lack of an overload of cases for judges and a lack of immigration attorneys puts the minors at a disadvantage.

SEE ALSO: Unaccompanied minors: Federal government run amok