Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to move forward with plans to transfer funds to help provide lawyers and legal orientation programs for children who are facing deportation hearings after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The request was denied by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the DOJ.
“Legal counsel and legal orientation presentations make the system more fair, effective and efficient, and those who are represented by counsel appear for their hearings at high rates,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The House’s failure to sign off on this transfer does not make funding for this important program impossible. The DOJ should exercise its authority to meet the administration’s objective of due process for all, especially children who cannot be expected to appropriately advocate their own cases.”
President Obama had requested a $3.7 billion supplemental funding bill to address the influx of children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The president’s proposed package was left on the table when Congress adjourned for August recess.
In a series of research trips this year, Human Rights First traveled to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and other key southern border areas in Arizona and California to evaluate the situation for asylum seekers, families and children crossing the border. Based on the organization’s research, any solution to the recent crisis should:
- Address the imbalance in funding and resulting backlogs in the immigration courts. Funding should be increased to address court delays nationwide, rather than limited only to border cases, so that national backlogs in the non-detained dockets are not exacerbated.
- Fund an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) initiative that would be more fiscally prudent and effective, rather than holding families with children in immigration detention for prolonged periods.
- Assure adequate resources for Health and Human Services to have the capacity to meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees.
- Increase access to legal information and counsel early in the process to assure fairness and accurate information, as well as saving money and creating efficiencies in adjudication by reducing processing time and time spent in detention.
- Maintain protections in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVRA) that are crucial for the screening of the unaccompanied children for trafficking.
“Any plan to rush cases through the asylum process sets a poor example for the rest of the world and is out of step with the United States’ legacy of protecting those fleeing persecution, trafficking, and other serious human rights violations,” said Acer.