SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - California lawmakers will fast-track a plan to provide legal aid to unaccompanied children coming into the state from other countries, Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday.
Members of all three branches of state government - Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and members of the Latino Legislative Caucus - announced the proposed legislation, with finalized language of the bill expected Friday.
The bill authorizes $3 million to qualified nonprofits to provide legal services for unaccompanied minors. It also eliminates ambiguities in state law so trial courts can make the necessary findings for a federal court to give the children special immigrant juvenile status.
Brown's office said the legislation stems from his meeting with religious and diplomatic leaders during a trip to Mexico last month. Steinberg also led a delegation of state lawmakers on a fact-finding trip to El Salvador and Guatemala to assess why 57,000 children have arrived at the U.S. border since October 2013.
"These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence," Steinberg said. "The systemic challenges addressed by this bill are a direct product of my legal team's on-the-ground experiences and, without exaggeration, could make the difference between the life and death of a child."
Members of the Latino Legislative Caucus called the situation
"a humanitarian crisis at the border," adding that turning the children away or deporting them is "a virtual death sentence." Atkins agreed.
"With these bills we're making it clear California wants unaccompanied immigrant children treated as children," Atkins said. "We want their well-being ensured, their best interests pursued, and their safety protected. While no longer in the headlines, the humanitarian crisis that has brought so many children to our country continues. While the root causes of this crisis are being addressed, these victimized children deserve to be treated with kindness and justice."
Brown agreed, saying the scheme is "consistent with the progressive spirit of California."