SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --San Francisco's legal system is being overwhelmed by the number of children crossing the border. In fact, federal judges are being told to expedite cases involving children without legal representation.
Religious leaders and immigration advocates held a vigil Thursday outside the San Francisco Federal Building at 7th and Mission streets to draw attention to children who've crossed the border like Brenda Rivera Santos, who is now living in the Bay Area. The 10-year-old and her mother spent 20 days walking from El Salvador to the U.S. border.
"En El Salvador es my peligroso y mis hermanos estan corriendo grandes peligros," she said.
Brenda explained that it's very dangerous in El Salvador. In fact, her mom left four other children behind, and now they too face danger.
We caught up with them outside the federal building where Brenda had a deportation hearing.
Jose Marin is her attorney. He represents about 20 children who have crossed the border either alone or with an adult.
"I've been receiving a lot of clients coming in, asking for help and it's typically single women with children," he said.
They come mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to escape poverty and violence.
"Los mareros le pedian dinero a mi mama y ella no tenia," said Brenda. She explained that gang members demanded money, which her mom doesn't have.
A 2008 law says minors who cross the border from these Central American countries have the right to a hearing after they've been detained. It's something Republicans now want to do away with.
But the law doesn't guarantee legal representation and that's something most children can't afford.
"In San Francisco, as of today, we have 840 children who are in immigration court," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Without representation, they will be most likely be sent back home immediately.
That's why local San Francisco organizations that provide free legal services met Thursday to discuss this crisis.
"Even with the wealth of non-profit organizations that we have, there is simply is not enough to go around," said Lariza Dugan-Cuadra with the Central American Resource Center.
Even with an attorney, Brenda and her mom aren't sure they have a strong enough case to be allowed to stay.