| Legal aid to unaccompanied minors
continues in Oakland
More than 400 children who have fled El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to seek asylum in Alameda County have received a reprieve on the funding for legal services that help them stay there.
Most of the young people live in Oakland, where last year's city budget provided $577,000 in funding for legal services. The proposed budget this year provided none. Oakland City Council members Noel Gallo and Rebecca Kaplan submitted separate amendments to the budget to continue the funding.
Among those advocating vigorously for the renewal of funding was Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, who in an action alert sent through the Catholic Legislative Network said, in part, "While this is a complex issue — our faith calls us to act — to reach out to support the most vulnerable in our society. Several hundred children have fled persecution and violence in Central America, and now seek refuge in Oakland. Despite the fact that these children have no home to go to, they will likely face deportation without proper legal representation."
With the backdrop of advocates and some of the young people they are assisting, the council voted to approve $300,000 for those legal services in the new budget.
The funds go to a consortium of organizations that provide legal services at no cost to the young people. The largest organizations are Centro Legal de la Raza and the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. Catholic Charities of the East Bay began offering services to the unaccompanied minors last year, creating a legal practice area in the field.
The numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking legal assistance swelled late last summer, inundating existing providers of the services. That's when Catholic Charities hired an attorney who is now carrying a full caseload, said Christopher Martinez, director of immigration legal services at Catholic Charities of the East Bay.
"We've always planned to be able to expand our service capacity," Martinez said.
The services are critical for the young people who need them, he said. "I think we're making a huge impact seeing that number of children."
Funding to Catholic Charities immigration services in other areas, such as Richmond and Concord, is unaffected by the Oakland move.
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