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Oregon Groups Show Support for Youngest Immigrants

PHOTO: Dave Fidanque with the ACLU of Oregon says Central American children who have come to the U.S. seeking asylum have a right to legal representation and an immigration hearing before being summarily deported. Photo courtesy of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
PHOTO: Dave Fidanque with the ACLU of Oregon says Central American children who have come to the U.S. seeking asylum have a right to legal representation and an immigration hearing before being summarily deported. Photo courtesy of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
July 24, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - Most have not traveled this far north yet, but Oregonians are already expressing concern for the thousands of children and teens crossing the U.S. border to escape violence and poverty in their Central American homelands.

On Wednesday a group of labor, religious and immigrants' rights organizations gathered to declare the wave of unaccompanied children arriving on the nation's southern border deserve the same rights as other newcomers to the U.S., including legal representation to fairly determine their ultimate immigration status.

Dave Fidanque, executive director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon, says access to legal representation is the motivation behind a class-action lawsuit filed this month in Seattle.

"We're seeking for the courts to order the government to appoint attorneys to represent these children," says Fidanque. "They have a right under our Constitution, and they have the right under international human rights agreements the U.S. has agreed to."

A small group of immigration-rights supporters also rallied in downtown Portland on Tuesday, with signs welcoming the unaccompanied minors, some of whom may end up in Oregon at shelters for refugees.

A diverse array of groups are advocating for the well-being of the recent immigrants, including the Oregon AFL-CIO, American Friends Service Committee and Causa, and a news conference held by the groups on Wednesday was part of a renewed national push for immigration reform. The coalition is asking Congress to approve President Obama's request for more funding to deal with the wave of young refugees - but Fidanque says they're not sure Congress is listening.

"A measure is moving forward in the Senate to cut that funding request substantially," says Fidanque. "What is not part of that request is a provision to provide all these children with court-appointed attorneys."

Fidanque says this week's statements by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner indicate his priority is getting children deported quickly back to their home countries, an approach Fidanque argues could end up costing the nation more money.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR