By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made an impassioned plea to U.S. law firms on Wednesday to free up attorneys to help deal with the surge of Central American children who have entered the country illegally by providing more pro bono representation.
At the end of a meeting with about 60 people - some from white-collar law firms, others from nonprofit organizations who work with immigrants - Biden urged lawyers to step up and help deal with a backlog of court cases for tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
"There's an awful lot of kids who need help. They need representation," said Biden. "We need trained lawyers to determine whether or not these kids meet the criteria for refugee status."
Congress last week rejected a proposal from President Barack Obama for $3.7 billion to help deal with the added costs of the emergency. The plan included $15 million to pay for lawyers to represent children in immigration proceedings.
Biden, who worked as a public defender before entering politics, said he has talked to law firms without immigration practices about pitching in, and told the lawyers they can learn how to help "real quick" because of their training.
"I'm asking for your patience, I'm asking for your ingenuity, and I'm asking for a hell of a lot of hard work," he said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)