LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today convened a roundtable in Los Angeles with major international law firms, immigrant rights advocates, legal service providers, and other stakeholders to discuss the ongoing need for resources and legal aid for children who have fled Central America to seek refuge in the United States. The roundtable was convened at the urging of immigration service providers who are still struggling to meet the legal and social service needs of unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge in California, and across the U.S.
Attorney General Harris and her office convened similar roundtables in the summer and fall of 2014, in response to the unprecedented influx of unaccompanied children arriving at our southern border from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These roundtables matched law firms, foundations, and legal service providers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Fresno, to mobilize geographic-based responses to the crisis.
“We must ensure that children receive due process and access to justice as they navigate our complex immigration courts and seek asylum or other forms of immigration relief,” said Attorney General Harris. “Legal representation can mean the difference between life and death for these children. Through the collaborative and dedicated work of law firms, legal service providers and advocates, we’ve been able to help many children, but far more work remains to be done.”
“Los Angeles has the second-highest number of unaccompanied minor children of any city in the nation—and continued violence in Central America creates new refugees each day. Through our Kinship Care Program and an incredible network of volunteer attorneys, Bet Tzedek helps refugee children who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status get access to shelter, healthcare, and education,” said Diego Cartagena, Associate Vice President, Pro Bono at Bet Tzedek. “Without our efforts and the support of the California Department of Justice, these children would show up in court without ever having spoken to an attorney. Bet Tzedek commends California Attorney General Kamala Harris for taking such an important stand to promote justice and to ensure that these children, and indeed all Californians, are given fair and complete access to the our judicial system.”
“Attorney General Kamala Harris has been an extraordinary leader in the protection of children who have come alone to the U.S. in search of safety. She has showed compassion, a commitment to justice and fairness, and a creativity that is key to addressing the great needs of these children who are fleeing pervasive violence in Central America from which their governments cannot protect them,” said Wendy Young, President of KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). “Through Attorney General Harris’s continuing efforts, many more children in Los Angeles will have attorneys to help them make their case for U.S. protection and be saved from being returned to danger. KIND is thrilled to be part of this vital effort.”
“Gibson Dunn feels honored to have had the opportunity to join California Attorney General Kamala Harris in addressing the humanitarian crisis posed by the thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America entering our country in search of safety, security and a chance at a future,” said Katie Marquart, Director of Pro Bono at Gibson Dunn. “We have taken many of these children on as our pro bono clients over the last several years. Each child has a unique story to tell, and our attorneys have appreciated the chance to help our clients tell their stories. We are proud to stand with the California Attorney General, our colleagues and these children.”
“Thousands of Central American children traveling alone as well as entire families continue fleeing an epidemic of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these refugees are arriving in Los Angeles and face the daunting prospect of appearing in immigration court alone to navigate our complex immigration system,” said Judy London, Directing Attorney, Immigrants’ Rights Project, Public Counsel. “Public Counsel applauds the efforts of California Attorney General Kamala Harris to address this humanitarian crisis by working to insure that every child before an immigration court has counsel. We are proud that California’s Attorney General is galvanizing the legal community to stand up for vulnerable refugees.”
In response to tens of thousands of children fleeing horrific violence and poverty in 2014, Attorney General Harris led an innovative, multi-sector response that secured millions of dollars and over 10,000 hours in pro bono work to close the legal services gap for unaccompanied children across the state. Last year, Attorney General Harris also sponsored legislation signed by Governor Brown that provided $3 million to qualified non-profits to provide legal services for unaccompanied minors.
At today’s reconvening, legal service providers and California law firms committed new resources, including pro bono counsel, to close the legal services gap and assist children and their families in immigration-related proceedings in federal and state courts.
Over the last year, Attorney General Harris has also issued consumer alerts and hosted a number of forums across California to provide immigrants and their families accurate information about President Obama’s immigration-related executive actions and tips to avoid predatory scams that delay and, in some instances jeopardize immigration relief.