Obama administration releases funds to help pay for attorneys to represent undocumented minors

The federal government recently announced a new program to provide legal representation for unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings in several cities across the nation, including Miami.

The program would benefit a small number of children in proceedings. More than 66,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the Mexican border between Oct. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31 this year. The new program would provide attorneys to only 1,222 children this year and only 1,378 children next year.

The program, nevertheless, responds to demands by immigrant rights activists that the foreign children should not be forced to stand before an immigration judge without legal representation. Activists cite statistics showing that foreign children who have attorneys assisting them in immigration court stand a better chance of avoiding deportation.

In June, the Department of Justice announced an initial limited program to provide some legal representation to some of the unaccompanied children. Since then, immigrant rights organizations have urged private lawyers across the country to volunteer their services as probono attorneys for more children.

The latest program, announced last week, will be overseen by the administration for children and families Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The agency administers a program that provides shelters and other services to unaccompanied children.

According to HHS, the agency plans to provide $9 million to two refugee assistance organizations to finance the attorney programs in 2014 and 2015. The disbursement this year amounts to $4.2 million.

The agency plans to disburse the funds to the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Arlington, Va.

An HHS official said that attorneys working under the program will be active in several U.S. cities. Those cities include Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, Phoenix, Baltimore and Arlington.

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