California plans aid to immigrant minors

August 21, 2014 - 7:05 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers will approve legislation supported by Gov. Jerry Brown to spend $3 million in state money to provide legal help for unaccompanied children from Central America, Democratic leaders announced Thursday.

Making the money available to help children is "the decent thing to do and it's consistent with the progressive spirit of California," Brown said in a statement.

He announced the plan along with Attorney General Kamala Harris, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and the Latino legislative caucus, all Democrats.

Because Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature, they will not need Republican support to pass the legislation. Spokespeople for the Assembly and Senate Republican caucuses did not immediately offer a response to the plan.

Brown said during a recent trip to Mexico that the estimated 57,000 unaccompanied children who have been caught crossing into the U.S. illegally since Oct. 1 present a humanitarian challenge.

Atkins said some lawmakers visited detention centers in Ventura County this summer.

"I think we all came away with a feeling that these kids really needed our support, that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with the humanitarian crisis," she said.

Atkins said the money, which will go to nonprofit groups that offer help to immigrants, would come from savings in the Assembly's budget and will be included in bills to be taken up next week.

The legislation will also give state courts the jurisdiction to make findings needed for federal officials to grant special immigrant juvenile status to the minors. It will be labeled as urgent, and officials hope the money can start going out within two or three weeks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are about 3,900 unaccompanied minors in California.

"We're not sending the National Guard to confront these children as other states have done," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, vice-chairman of the Latino legislative caucus, taking a jab at Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to deploy troops to the Texas-Mexico border.

Alejo, an attorney by training, said children are more likely to be deported if they do not have legal representation. He said immigration law is complicated and requires specialized knowledge.