Described in a press release as a “strategic partnership” between DOJ and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps, Attorney General Eric Holder said the effort will “protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.”
“With the launch of justice AmeriCorps, we're taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society,” Holder said. “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings - many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking - goes to the core of who we are as a nation.
“Through this program, we reaffirm our allegiance to the values that have always shaped our pursuit of justice,” Holder said. “We empower new generations of aspiring attorneys and paralegals to serve their country and stand on the front lines of this fight.
“And we bolster both the efficacy and the efficiency of our immigration courts,” Holder said.
“AmeriCorps members will provide critical support for these children, many of whom are escaping abuse, persecution or violence,” Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS, is quoted as saying in the press release. “The justice AmeriCorps partnership responds to a direct call from Congress, and reflects how national service can be a part of the solution to some of the most challenging issues facing our country today.”
AmeriCorps was created during the Clinton administration through the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. Members are volunteers who receive “modest financial compensation” for service.
The DOJ press release said that about 100 attorneys and paralegals will be recruited for the program, which is partly in response to a congressional directive to the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Reform “to better serve vulnerable populations such as children and improve court efficiency through pilot efforts aimed at improving legal representation.”
But at least two members of Congress are criticizing the program, including the plan to house hundreds of these unaccompanied illegal minors at Fort Sill military base in Lawton, Okla.
"At a time when the President is drastically reducing defense spending funds at a historically rapid rate, he now expects our military bases to temporarily take on the responsibility of caring for unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed the border into the United States," Inhofe said in a statement.
"Our nation has an immigration problem and a national security crisis, but I don't believe the answer is for our military facilities to be transformed into a center that houses, feeds, and cares for illegal immigrants,” he said.
“This only encourages parents to send their children unaccompanied over the border and, with the average-aged child being between 13 and 17, it exposes our military facilities to unknown security concerns,” Inhofe said.
“I am disappointed and dismayed that the administration has failed to provide timely notification to the Oklahoma congressional delegation and to state and local officials about its plan to use facilities designed to house our troops as a juvenile detention center for illegal unaccompanied minors,” Cole said in a statement. “This plan is an inappropriate use of military facilities.
“It will inevitably strain and limit facilities and resources that are intended for the use of service men and women,” Cole said.
According to Customs and Border Protection, the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended along the southwest border has increased 92 percent from fiscal year 2013 (24,493) to fiscal year 2014 (47,017).