Washington (CNN) – One thing critical to addressing the current influx of unaccompanied minors along the U.S.-Mexico border: lots and lots of lawyers. That was Vice President Joe Biden's call to the legal services community on Wednesday.
"We need lawyers. We need trained lawyers to determine whether or not these kids meet the criteria for refugee status," the vice president said at a gathering of representatives from law firms and non-profits at the White House.
Families in violence-plagued Central American countries are making the “horrible” decision to send kids to the United States, Biden said, saying the legal community needed to step up its presence in immigration courts determining which kids can stay and which must be sent back.
“It’s hard. It’s going to be really hard. It was hard already. This backlog is going to continue to pile up,” Biden said, noting he thought the “vast majority” of Americans believed something needed to be done to help the migrant children, who began flooding the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this summer.
Biden said that providing legal representation to kids was essential in upholding the United States’ reputation.
“I hope you’ve overcome the notion that just because we can’t do them all we shouldn’t do anything,” he told the group of lawyers. “You know, you take care of one of these kids, you’ll get greater satisfaction than you have from winning a case for a major corporate client.”
Biden's plea is part of a larger series of actions on the part of the administration to address the growing crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. The number of minors from Central American countries- with the overwhelming majority hailing from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala- crossing the border has surged in 2014. Since the beginning of the year, 62,000 children have arrived in the United States illegally, though the rate has slowed in recent weeks.
Federal law dictates that minors from countries that are not contiguous to the United States (i.e. not from Mexico or Canada) cannot be immediately sent back to their home countries, they must have a court hearing. So, enter the lawyers.
“I wish I had a more perfect solution for you,” Biden said. “This is just hard stuff.”
In June, Biden visited Guatemala, one of the countries of origin for the wave of migrant children, to announce greater U.S. efforts in stemming gang-related violence. Children are also arriving from El Salvador and Honduras.
The surge prompted a heated debate over what to do with the children, leading to angry protests and accusations the White House wasn’t doing enough to secure the border. President Barack Obama requested nearly $4 billion from Congress to accommodate the migrants and help process them through immigration courts, though lawmakers weren’t able to come to an agreement on a final measure before they left for a five week summer vacation.
“What we’re trying to figure out – and it’s hard – is how we can use the multiple assets, absent Congressional support and the real money we need, to do the kinds of things we need,” Biden said. “Because they’ve left town. And they left town a long time ago, figuratively speaking, in actually engaging on this.”