Reid Rallies Political Support for Central American Refugees With 'Fair Day in Court for Kids Act'
Nevada Senator and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid on Feb. 11 introduced a bill aimed at protecting unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the U.S. in hopes of escaping the violence and harsh conditions that grip their homelands.
The "Fair Day in Court for Kids Act" was co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Reid described the conditions necessitating the legislation as a "humanitarian crisis." He emphasized many of the victims fleeing to the U.S. and other countries are women and children trapped in the Northern Triangle -- the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where crime and lawlessness have increased exponentially.
Reid Defends Refugees Coming to Border
"These refugees in our hemisphere are seeking protection," Reid added in a statement released to Latin Post. "They are escaping to neighboring countries, desperate to find someplace to hide, someplace to find sanctuary. Many make the trek all the way through Mexico to our Southern border."
Yet, according to Reid, when refugees go before a judge seeking asylum, they often have no legal representation and are forced to represent themselves. The senator insisted even young children are forced to fight to remain in the U.S. in order to escape violence.
"These children, who don't speak English and are in a new country, are unreasonably expected to represent themselves in a court of law?" he said. "Approximately 70 percent of women with children, and 50 percent of unaccompanied children, who enter the United States do not have a lawyer when standing before a judge in deportation proceedings."
Reid hoped his "Fair Day in Court for Kids Act" will change all that by requiring the U.S. government to appoint counsel for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals.
"My bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security to make legal orientation programs available at all detention centers, so people know their rights and responsibilities under immigration law," he added.
Reid's efforts were commended by Mary Meg McCarthy, the executive director of the Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center.
"Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center applauds the actions by U.S. senators and Cook County Board of Commissioners to protect Central American refugee families," she said in a statement.
El Salvador: World's Murder Capital
According to Reid, El Salvador is now considered the murder capital of the world, with more murders per capita than any other nation. Currently, the murder rate is 26 times higher than that of the United States. Latin Post previously reported that 2015 was on pace to be the most violent year there on record, with killings at one point averaging around 16 per day.
In all, Reid contended El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala now rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, for rates of female homicides.
"That's why you see these women and children fleeing for their lives," he added. "But it's not just murder that these desperate people are trying to escape. People in these countries are imperiled by high rates of human trafficking, drug trafficking, sexual assaults, and widespread corruption. It is an understatement to say that these are not safe places to live."