The West

Modesto migrant shelter providing legal aid to kids 2 days after pressure from lawmaker

After an inquiry by California Rep. Josh Harder, a shelter for migrant children in Modesto is providing required legal services to the kids.

The shelter houses immigrant children facing legal proceedings over whether they can stay in the U.S. It opened about two months ago and reportedly did not provide legal services to the children until Wednesday night.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which contracts with local facilities to house the migrant children, is required by law to offer legal services for the children. The agency received $100 million for immigration-related services, including legal assistance for child migrants, from Congress earlier this year.

Harder, D-Turlock, wrote a letter demanding answers on Tuesday. He called the quick action by the Office of Refugee Resettlement after his letter “justice.”

“Some of these kids are 13 years old, braved a three-month trek to the United States to flee violence or persecution, and were faced with navigating the legal system on their own – not anymore,” Harder said Thursday. “This victory is thanks to the work of local advocates, a committed free press, and the outcry of everyday people – I was proud to lead the charge on this and I’ll keep working to make sure these kids get the fair treatment they are legally entitled to.”

The shelter has a maximum occupancy of 12 and is currently housing six kids, all of them either pregnant teens, teenage mothers or their young children.

Until the contract went through, the nonprofit organizations Legal Services for Children and Kids in Need of Defense were providing voluntary legal services to the kids. Legal Services for Children got word Wednesday night that the organization would receive a contract to provide paid legal services to the children, according to Harder’s office.

With funding, Legal Services for Children can hire staff and consistently provide legal experts in immigration to help voluntary attorneys who do not specialize in immigration. Advocates say that attention could expedite immigration cases.

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.