Seeking to address the swell of unaccompanied children from Central America who have immigrated to the U.S. illegally, Gov. Jerry Brown and California lawmakers announced Thursday a proposal to provide $3 million in legal aid to those minors.
“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.
The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.
“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.
“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support -- that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Brown was outspoken about the crisis during his trip to Mexico City last month, pledging to find ways support migrant children in California.
“I deliver you a commitment that this is a topic that will not be ignored in the coming months or the coming years,” he said during an event with Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez. “Whatever can be done by a mere governor, will be done.”
Thursday’s announcement came with a quick dig at California’s frequent rival, Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry ordered National Guard troops to the border to stem the flood of immigrants.
“We’re not sending the National Guard to confront these children as other states have done,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) said. “California instead is putting its actions where its words are.”
The plan is also backed by state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who had convened a working group in July to examine ways to provide legal representation to the children.
The proposals will be added to remaining budget clean-up bills and need majority approval in both houses to pass. The Legislature has until Aug. 31 to act on remaining bills before it adjourns for the year.
Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.
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