Politics & Policy

Legal Aid for Illegals

Using the taxpayers’ money to find lawyers for illegal-immigrant children.

Beneath the radar, Democrats have launched an unprecedented effort to shield illegal immigrants from deportation and shepherd them through the naturalization process.

The Justice Department’s newest plan has not received the same scrutiny as the prospect that President Obama will take executive action to amnesty millions of illegal immigrants once the November elections are over, although it, too, is legally dubious. The new program will use taxpayer money to unite lawyers with illegal-immigrant children, which legal analysts describe to National Review Online as inappropriate and a potential violation of federal law.

In a press release earlier this month, the DOJ and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that invests in nonprofit organizations and administers AmeriCorps, announced that they had awarded $1.8 million in grants to organizations that would provide legal representation to unaccompanied alien children.

These were identified in the press release as “certain children who have crossed the U.S. border without a parent or legal guardian.” The DOJ and CNCS will administer the funds through the “justice AmeriCorps” program, which is designed to provide 100 attorneys and paralegals to usher the children through the legal system and obtain protection for them within the United States, as NRO has previously reported. The nearly $2 million will assist illegal-immigrant children appearing in courts in at least 17 major cities, including Chicago, New York, San Antonio, and San Diego, according to the release.

Some legal analysts say the funding for the program may be an illegitimate use of taxpayer dollars. And one thing it will surely result in is immigration-court cases being argued by ostensibly opposing sides in fact working toward the same goal desired by the Obama administration: keeping the illegal-immigrant children in the United States.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, points out to NRO that, according to federal law, an illegal alien “shall have the privilege of being represented, at no expense to the Government, by counsel of the alien’s choosing who is authorized to practice in such proceedings.” Von Spakovsky says justice AmeriCorps violates the stipulation “at no expense to the Government” because of the Justice Department’s involvement.

“It’s one thing to provide housing and shelter for kids who have come here illegally within the statute, but to provide them with legal representation goes against this other statute that specifically prohibits it,” he says. “When Justice put out a statement on it, they didn’t really cite any authority for [Attorney General Eric] Holder doing that.”

And the Obama administration has not been at all forthcoming about the details of the program. Kathryn Mattingly, a DOJ spokesperson, didn’t directly answer NRO’s questions about the funding source for the justice AmeriCorps grants, but she says via e-mail that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has no concerns about the legality of the program.

In a statement about the program, Holder said he thought it represented the best way to address the challenge of protecting the rights of the unaccompanied alien children. “We are addressing that challenge by using these funds to facilitate access to legal representation for some of the most vulnerable of these children,” Holder said. “By increasing the number of represented children, we will enhance the resources available to both the children and the courts to better serve the administration of justice in all cases.”

According to the press release, the Justice Department took more than a year developing justice AmeriCorps — which means it set the wheels in motion before the latest border crisis started. Ana Kocur of the EOIR describes the program as representing “the realization of creative government thinking.”

Von Spakovsky says the program has created a way to allow more illegal immigrants to reside safely within the United States. “I think this is a first step, and the fact that they’re proud of it basically shows they’re proud of the fact that they can manipulate the law, go outside of the law, violate the law,” he says. “I think that they will be colluding to make sure that none of these folks are removed. I think that’s clearly what’s going to happen.”

The Obama administration may eventually expand the program to include several other categories of illegal immigrants as well, says John Feere, a legal-policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies. “I suspect that there will be many different types of illegal immigrants who will be taking advantage of this,” he says. “My thinking is this type of a program is just a way to get the foot in the door, create a taxpayer-funded attorneys’ group for younger children, but eventually it’ll probably be expanded to include adults as well.”

If the president decides to take executive action to effectively amnesty millions of illegal immigrants later this year, he may also look at expanding justice AmeriCorps. An expansion of this program could place millions of illegal immigrants on the fast track to citizenship, which is something the president would otherwise be unlikely to achieve singlehandedly.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at National Review.

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