- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

Top Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday that would grant government-funded lawyers to illegal immigrants who are part of the surge of Central Americans that have overwhelmed the border and stretched the immigration courts.

Though unlikely to advance in the GOP-controlled Congress, the legislation is an important marker for both the presidential campaign and for the ongoing debate over how the U.S. treats the illegal immigrants — and particularly the unaccompanied children — that have skyrocketed in recent years.

Sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the bill would allow illegal immigrants to delay their court dates until the government has provided them with documents. It would also require the Justice Department to appoint lawyers for illegal immigrant children and allow the department to grant lawyers to a wide range of other illegal immigrants as well.

Currently, those migrants are able to hire their own lawyers, but the government cannot pay for them.

“Look, deportation means death for some of these people,” Mr. Reid said. “Given the life-and-death consequences of deportation to this region, we must ensure that we are not putting asylum-seeking women and children in harm’s way. We can do this by making sure that these desperate women and children have a lawyer.”

The women and children coming across the border have proved to be highly controversial.

The Obama administration, advocacy groups and congressional Democrats say the families are fleeing horrific violence back home, are often targeted by gangs, and deserve a chance at asylum in the U.S.

But in interviews with Border Patrol agents, the illegal immigrants overwhelmingly say they’re coming because they believe they can take advantage of lax enforcement policies in the U.S. and disappear into the shadows with other illegal immigrants.

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