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Children Fleeing Violence Need Counsel And To Be Recognized As Refugees


When it comes to immigration, the differences between Republicans and Democrats couldn’t be more clear.

Every time we think the GOP field has reached a new low, they get worse. Some talk mass deportation. For others, it’s self-deportation. But they all want to block DAPA and end DACA and oppose a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the United States without papers.

On the Democratic side, we’ve got two candidates leaning in to the issue. Both Democratic candidates support a pathway to citizenship, have pledged to expand DACA and DAPA, and committed to ending family detention.

However, the debate on Thursday, February 11th, did show some daylight between the two candidates, especially on what the United States should do about the Central American Children fleeing violence.

Sanders argued:

“Secretary Clinton, I do have a disagreement here. If my memory is correct, I think when we saw children coming from these horrendous, horrendously violent areas of Honduras and neighboring countries, people who are fleeing drug violence and cartel violence, I thought it was a good idea to allow those children to stay in this country. That was not, as I understand it, the Secretary’s position.”

Sanders was referring to a 2014 interview on CNN, where the secretary said that children from violence-ridden Central American countries should be sent back “as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are.”

In the 2014 interview she also said, “We don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

A New York Times editorial, published on February 12, 2016, noted a pattern:

Over the years, Mrs. Clinton has shown an unfortunate tendency to oscillate between harshness and compassion on immigration questions. She seems to reach instinctively for the tougher-sounding policy before coming around, eventually, to positions that more closely reflect American ideals of welcome — ideals that Mr. Sanders voiced fluently on Thursday night.

During the debate last night, Clinton responded to Sanders by saying:

“The fact is that there was a great effort made by the Obama Administration and others to really send a clear message, because we knew that so many of these children were being abused, being treated terribly while they tried to get to our border.”

She added:

“So we have a disagreement on this. I think now what I’ve called for is counsel for every child so that no child has to face any kind of process without someone who speaks and advocates for that child, so that the right decision hopefully can be made.”

Clinton’s call for counsel for every child is a critical piece of addressing the Humanitarian Crisis in Central America, but a key question remains: Does Secretary Clinton think the children fleeing violence are refugees?

Designating these children as refugees will provide another set of legal protections before any determination of whether or not they will be sent back to the violence they are desperately trying to escape.

As the New York Times editorial mentioned above also stated:

The border influx was a humanitarian emergency before it became a concocted homeland-security crisis and political pickle. It will take courage, and require a lot of money, for the country to stand up for the rights of the uninvited and desperate. Volunteer lawyers and advocacy organizations have struggled mightily to provide representation for migrants who face the real threat of death if their asylum claims fail.

These children need counsel, but they also need to be recognized for what they are — refugees.