The federal government is denying legal assistance to child migrants living at a Modesto shelter, according to advocates who worry the kids will suffer unnecessarily without access to attorneys.
Complaints about the site, which has been open for less than two months, reached Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, who on Tuesday sent a letter to the Trump administration asking questions about services there.
The migrants in the Modesto facility are pregnant teens, teen mothers and their children, with ages ranging from toddlers to teenagers. It houses up to a dozen migrants at a time and has been operating for about two months. It is currently housing six immigrant children.
“The Trump Administration needs to guarantee these kids have the help they’re legally entitled to,” Harder said. “Local organizations have done the best they can in filling in the gaps, but that’s not their job – it’s up to the federal government to fix this. We need answers.”
Migrant shelters are required by law to make attorneys available and Congress recently allocated $100 million for immigration-related services including legal assistance for child immigrants.
“Thinking of anyone going to an immigration hearing without an attorney, let alone a child, is totally absurd,” said Jennifer Podkul, interim vice president for policy at Kids in Need of Defense, which offers bro bono help to the children in the Modesto facility and has contracted with the government at other migrant detention facilities.
The immigrants in Modesto wind up there after they’ve been detained at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. The immigration agency must release children from detention facilities within three weeks, but officials can transfer them to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
That department hires local childcare facilities, such as the one in Modesto, to house the unaccompanied child migrants for longer periods.
The refugee resettlement office said it would not be able to comment by press time in response to McClatchy’s questions.
By Kate Irby for MODBEE.COM
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