Feds Allot $9 Million for Unaccompanied Kids' Attorney Fees, But How Far Can That Money Go?

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On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced an initiative to allot $9 million to help unaccompanied Central American kids pay for attorney fees. The money will be given to several cities with a high population of these kids, including Dallas, over the next two years.

It's a powerful statement in getting legal aid to kids who can't afford it. But it seems the move may be primarily symbolic: How far will that money actually go? When $9 million is spread out over the course of two years, and divided between several different cities, insiders report that Dallas families of unaccompanied minors shouldn't get their hopes up just yet.

"I don't think that amount of money is adequate to meet the needs of the children, but it's a lot more money than was available before this," says Bill Holston, executive director of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. "I think every agency working in this area is working at capacity."

Thousands of unaccompanied children have been detained in the last several months, and with kids moving through the immigration court system faster than ever, many families do not have the time to scrounge raise the money needed for a lawyer -- often in the tens of thousands of dollars -- if they cannot secure a pro bono attorney.

See also: Rocket Dockets for Kids in Immigration Courts Raise Doubts About Fairness

And often, kids cannot secure a lawyer at all. When that happens, they must appear before a judge, with their parent or relative attempting to form a legal argument against deportation. The money is expected to help roughly 1,200 kids this year, spread out over nine cities.

"I'm glad the government is stepping up to make sure the kids get lawyers in court. That's a worthy goal," says Holston. "It should not be acceptable to us as a country that children go to court without a lawyer."

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