Obama Administration calls surge in unaccompanied children attempting to cross U.S. border “a humanitarian crisis”

80% of border detainees enter immigration court without representation; Murray-backed program protects detainees from exploitation, trafficking 

Murray provision would fund 35 new Immigration Judge Teams to adjudicate tens of thousands of additional cases

(Washington, D.C.)  Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that she has secured committee passage of funding to provide basic legal information and protections for undocumented immigrants, including unaccompanied children, detained by immigration officials, and fund 35 new Immigration Judge Teams to adjudicate tens of thousands of additional cases and reduce the existing backlog. These cases involve a wide range of actions, including stays of removal and deportations of dangerous criminals.   The provisions are particularly critical in light of the growing humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, including many unaccompanied children, who have been detained inside the U.S. Murray’s provisions were included in the Fiscal Year 2015 Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which passed the full committee yesterday. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.

“Every week, hundreds of young children are detained while desperately trying to enter the United States completely alone, and they are simply left to the mercy of an immigration system that isn’t designed to protect them.  These children deserve to know their rights and receive basic legal information, so I’m thrilled we were able to pass this commonsense language through the committee.  This isn’t about politics, it’s about providing the most basic protections and rights for children and individuals detained in our immigration system,” said Senator Murray.  “At the same time, by providing the Department of Justice with funding for 35 additional Immigration Judge Teams, we’ve taken an important step toward reducing the massive immigration case backlog and improving the rule of law.”

“As we continue to work toward a fair, humane and comprehensive reform of our immigration system, we appreciate Senator Murray's efforts to increase the resources available to improve the quality of our immigration adjudication system,” said Jorge L. Baron, Executive Director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Senator Murray’s provisions provide:

  • $10,024,000 to expand the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which provides information about legal rights and responsibilities in immigration court to undocumented immigrants in detention, including unaccompanied children.
  • $5,824,000 to fund the ''Pilot-Innovation Ideas" to expand the LOP and improve the level and quality of legal representation for unaccompanied minor children, specifically, in immigration courts. This pilot program also directs the Office of Immigration Review to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security to adjudicate immigration cases for unaccompanied children quickly.
  • $17,000,000 increase for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to add 35 new Immigration Judge Teams. This will allow the office to help adjudicate up to 39,000 more cases annually, and reduce the backlog of cases that continue to keep families apart. 

The EOIR, including the Board of Immigration Appeals, immigration judges, and administrative law judges, decide through administrative hearing whether to admit or exclude immigrants from the United States. The EOIR is the federal government’s frontline in deciding all immigration matters, such as stays of removal and deportations, including the deportation of dangerous criminals who have violated the terms of their visa by committing a felony in the U.S.  The immigration Court’s caseload has steadily increased as a result of heightened enforcement with the annual caseload increasing by more than 60 percent since 2009.  However, due to the Department of Justice’s hiring freeze, the number of immigration judges has decreased.  As a result of more cases and fewer judges, most immigration Courts have a case backlog of at least a year, which leaves thousands of families waiting for their loved one’s case to be heard.

Senator Murray is one of the leading voices in the United States Senate for comprehensive immigration reform.  She voted to pass the Senate reform bill in 2013, and has consistently called on the House of Representatives to take up the Senate-passed bill.