MODESTO — Immigration advocates and at least one congressman are now calling attention to a small shelter in Modesto that houses South and Central American migrant children who have recently crossed the border.
The Bethany Christian Services campus in Modesto is unique for a few reasons.
The migrants who stay there are oftentimes teenagers who are pregnant or already have children.
It is also one of the only shelters of its kind nationwide not getting federal money to pay for immigration lawyers to represent the migrant children in court.
“I grew up in Poland under Soviet times. I lived in South Africa under apartheid times and I think even there people would’ve been outraged at what we’re doing here,” said immigration attorney Patrick Kolasinski.
Kolasinski said he is outraged.
“And then when we found out the full story about denying the representation, it completely blew our mind,” he told FOX40.
Congress has already approved funding for every migrant child detained or waiting for asylum to have full representation in immigration courts. The migrants not receiving it in Modesto is a violation of the law.
Kolasinski said no one can seem to figure out why this is happening.
“We’re looking to see exactly where the holdup is and then we’re going to try to put pressure where that is,” he explained.
And he is not alone.
“Last year, we saw reports of kids as young as 3 years old who were expected to defend themselves in court,” said Rep. Josh Harder, D-Modesto, told FOX40 Wednesday. “And, obviously, that makes no sense whatsoever.”
Congressman Harder has already contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which should be responsible for providing funds to Bethany Christian.
“So far, they’ve been totally silent and that’s why we’re pushing for answers,” Harder told FOX40.
The ORR did not respond to FOX40’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for Bethany Christian said the migrants in Modesto have had pro bono attorneys volunteer their time to represent them:
Bethany believes that every unaccompanied child has a right to high quality legal services. We are grateful that KIND and LSC have provided pro-bono legal services to every child that has been cared for in Bethany’s small group home in Modesto, CA, and we fully support the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act’s requirement that unaccompanied children have access to legal help to the “greatest extent practicable.”
Harder said that’s not good enough.
“This is the most vulnerable refugee population that America has,” he said. “These are minors with their own kids. They should be the folks getting the most care.”