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Obama administration to provide $9 million in legal help to undocumented children

A U.S. Border Patrol agent assists an unaccompanied minor, 13, from El Salvador after he crossed the Rio Grande into the United States on July 24 in Mission, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Obama administration plans to offer $9 million in legal services to some of the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant children who have crossed the border illegally.

The money, to be doled out over the next two years, will provide legal representation to 2,600 children who were unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian when apprehended by authorities, amounting to more than $3,460 per child. A surge in apprehensions of such children stirred emotions over the summer as the administration searched for places to house them while being criticized by many governors over an alleged lack of transparency about the effort.

The announcement of the $9 million in federal grants comes just a few days after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a measure into law providing $3 million to nonprofits in his state for the same purpose. San Francisco on Tuesday also decided to provide more than $2.1 million in representation to such children and their families. In June, New York City became the first city in the nation to provide lawyers for low-income immigrants facing deportation, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The federal government will give more than $4.2 million over the next year to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in D.C. and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Arlington, both of which will provide legal services to undocumented children in nine cities: Arlington, Va., Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix. The cities, home to substantial numbers of children moving through such immigration proceedings, were chosen in consultation with the Justice Department, with 1,222 children benefiting from this first round of funding. The remainder of the $9 million will be distributed in a year.

More than 66,000 such children have been apprehended at the Southwest border alone, from Oct. 1 through the end of August, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Once apprehended, children are transferred to the Health & Human Services Department’s Office of the Administration of Children & Families, where they are fed, sheltered and given medical attention until they can be placed with a sponsor—typically family members—as they await their proceedings. From Jan. 1 through the end of August, 43,419 such placements have been made.