Vice President Joseph R. Biden appealed to legal scholars and immigration advocates Wednesday to provide legal representation for thousands of illegal immigrant children in the U.S., saying the administration’s effort to handle a new surge of deportation cases “is going to be really hard.”
“We need lawyers,” Mr. Biden said in a meeting at the White House. “This is going to be really hard. It was hard before. But this backlog [of cases] has continued to pile up.”
About half of the more than 50,000 children from Central America who have immigrated illegally to the U.S. since last fall don’t have lawyers to represent them in deportation proceedings. Mr. Biden told the audience of about 60 pro-immigration advocates that the administration needs lawyers to help with the “hard decisions” of whether the children deserve to stay in the U.S.
“We need trained lawyers to determine whether or not these kids meet the criteria for refugee status and/or whether or not they are in such jeopardy if they don’t gain at least continued safety and security that they’re going to be sent to something that will [cause] their physical demise,” he said.
The vice president also refuted the administration’s earlier claim that worsening violence in Central America is one of the chief reasons why the children are fleeing their native countries.
“It’s bad, but nothing’s changed,” he said. “Nothing’s changed in six months or a year. The neighborhoods are no more violent or no less violent.”
He blamed the surge of illegal immigrants on criminals who are paid to smuggle the children across the border.
Mr. Biden said the reputation of the U.S. is at stake in the humanitarian crisis.
“We’re going to be judged by the rest of the world on how we take care of these kids — how we deal with this fairly,” he said. “These are not somebody else’s kids. These are our kids. These are the children that lift the national ambitions of each of these countries aloft, and it’s a tragedy for the countries who are losing them and for us not being able to solve every one of their problems.”
The vice president said even the comprehensive immigration bill that’s stalled in Congress “wouldn’t solve it all,” seeming to contradict President Obama’s recent arguments that the legislation would significantly improve the border problems.
“Even if we pass the immigration bill, it wouldn’t solve it all,” he said. “Even if we had the resources we asked for, it wouldn’t solve it all. This is just hard stuff.”