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California attorney general asks lawyers to help immigrant children

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - California's attorney general has personally asked several major law firms to provide pro bono services to unaccompanied immigrant children flooding the U.S. border with Mexico, a signal that California views the growing crisis as a humanitarian issue.

The move comes amid escalating political tension in the United States over how to deal with the thousands of children fleeing violence in their Central American homelands.

"We've convened a group of law firms to make sure these children, some of them as young as 8 years old, have access to due process," California Attorney General Kamala Harris said on Thursday.

Central American children began flooding the border at crossing points in Texas earlier this year, overwhelming local officials and leading the federal government to send thousands to other states for processing.

By the end of June, about 3,000 of the children had been sent to California, and more have come since.

In meetings in Los Angeles last week, Harris asked lawyers for some of the state's most prestigious firms to donate 500 hours of pro bono work to the children this year, spokesman Nicholas Pacilio said.

She asked corporate lawyers for entertainment giants including the Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment to do the same, he said, adding that most had agreed to help.

Harris' remarks came a day after California Governor Jerry Brown said California would "do its part" in the crisis, despite calls by anti-illegal immigration activists to speed up deportation proceedings.

Brown said California viewed the flood of children as a humanitarian crisis, rather than a political issue.

The influx of children at the border, mostly fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, has intensified the debate over immigration reform and overwhelmed U.S. authorities, who have been hard-pressed to find temporary housing for the young migrants as they await deportation proceedings.

On Tuesday, planning commissioners in the San Diego suburb of Escondido rejected a proposal to open a temporary shelter for some of the children.

Harris said there was much the state could do to help the children sent here, but that ultimately, immigration issues should be dealt with at the federal level.

She criticized Congress for failing to act on a stalled package of immigration reforms that would have included a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

"They've fallen short," Harris said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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