A bill was proposed by a group of Democratic U.S. representatives on Monday that, if passed, would offer legal representation to unaccompanied migrant children in America. The group is led by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and three Democratic women from Southern California: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Judy Chu and Rep. Karen Bass. As Jeffries explained, the four Democrats believe that undocumented immigrant children arriving alone in America should be entitled to legal representation to guarantee that they can navigate the deportation proceedings properly and fairly.
“It is a fantasy to believe that they [undocumented immigrant children] have a fair shot in immigration proceedings without counsel,” Jeffries said at a news conference.
The bill, known as the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014, or VIVA, comes at an interesting moment in the immigration debate. Many proponents of immigration reform believe the defeat of Eric Cantor, House Majority leader, in his primary eliminated the best chance to pass the current comprehensive reform bill. The bill has been stalled for nearly a year in the House of Representatives. Cantor, a Republican, was thought by many to be the most likely route to building support for reform on the right. Ultimately, he was unable to take a firm stand on either side of the immigration debate and lost his primary election to David Brat, an economics professor strongly against any form of amnesty. Meanwhile, unaccompanied minors continue to cross into the U.S. from Central America, with officials predicting the total number to top 90,000 by the end of the year.
VIVA has drawn early criticism from those against reform, as it mimics a clause in the original reform bill that also aimed to provide legal support for some immigrants, particularly children. Jeffries and his group, however, maintain that their bill is in the best interests of the nation, not just those of immigrant children. According to Jeffries’ group, the timely immigration proceedings that would result from passing VIVA could save over $2 billion annually by eliminating the need to house and feed these children for extended periods prior to their hearings.