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Sonia Nazario on the Daily Show: We Need to Do the "Right Thing" By Central American Children

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Must-watch today is Pulitzer Prize winning author Sonia Nazario‘s interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart about the Central American children’s crisis and the US response to it.  We last wrote about Nazario on Sunday, when she appeared on MSNBC.  Nazario has been an effective and clear spokesperson for who these children are, why at least some of them should qualify for asylum, and how the US must respond to do right by them.  A 2008 law signed by President Bush guarantees child migrants due process if they’re coming from Central America and conditions of persecution.  As Nazario suggests, President Obama and Republicans who want to change this law in order to expedite the removal of children who might be shipped home to their deaths are acting, to say the least, irresponsibly.

Watch Nazario’s interview below.  A partial transcript follows:

JS: It used to be that kids would leave these countries for economic reasons, and to reunite with their parents. How has the condition changed in Honduras now?

SN: I went back to Honduras to [Enrique’s] neighborhood last month, and I was just shocked by the change that I saw. Enormous growth in violence. We’ve stopped the flow of cocaine from Colombia up the Caribbean to the US, we spent $8 billion to do that, but it simply rerouted inland to Honduras. So all these cocaine flights going to the US land in Honduras, and these narco-cartels are really fighting for control over this turf and these children have become their foot soldiers. They’re trying to recruit these children at a very young age to use drugs, distribute drugs, serve as lookouts, and ultimately serve as hitmen for these cartels. So there are children living in enormous fear who have been threatened multiple times by the time they’re 11 years old.

JS: So these kids get to our border and we…do what?

SN: I think we need to see these children for what they are — they’re refugees. An immigrant who comes here for economic reasons, for a better life, I understand the impulse to deport that person, I’m not an open borders gal. But these children, I talked to an 11-year-old boy, who said “they are beating me in school, trying to force me to use drugs, I know three people who’ve been killed this year, my elementary school has 12-year-old narcos who show up and say ‘all of these kids, they have to go with me,’ and they use ten-year-olds to distribute crack in my school.” These children are fleeing for their lives, and I think it’s a really extraordinary moment for us to stand up and do the right thing for these children.


JS: Why is it so hard to do that? I spent some time in Jordan last summer, this is a country of 6 million people, they have very little in terms of resources. Refugees are pouring in by the hundreds of thousands from Syria, from Iraq. And they do everything in their power to give those people refuge and asylum. And we line up at the border and yell at them. I think it’s embarrassing for our country.

SN: It is embarrassing. I think Republicans have used these 6-year-olds as punching bags ahead of the primary playing to their base, saying that these kids are criminals and they’re carrying ebola. They’re simply playing to the lowest common denominator, these anti-immigrant feelings. And President Obama, instead of saying ‘let’s give these kids a real due process, let’s let them go to court and see if they’re refugees–

JS: –which is the law, by the way, the 2008 law that President Bush signed says that if you come from Central America and you’re seeking asylum, you are owed due process.

SN: And shame on him for trying to change that law, because he’s trying to expedite their removal. President Obama wants to change that law so these kids are NOT given their fair day in court, where they CAN argue whether they’re refugees or not. They need to be given a full, fair hearing with an attorney by their side. We allow murderers in this country — we provide them with a public defender. But an immigrant child is not provided with that, and so many of them can’t afford an attorney.

JS: What is a six-year-old who only speaks Spanish need with an attorney? I’m SURE our court system will sort it all out.

SN: Right, they can present a complex asylum case all by themselves, right? No problem.

JS: Is there a momentum building with states stepping up to take in the children?

SN: I’ve seen the grassroots — many Christian, evangelical, Baptist groups, that have really stepped up and said, we can help these children in these detention facilities. We want to do the right thing. But I think on a political level, these children are being used as footballs. And many people are saying, how fast can we get rid of them? And the president is trying to push Mexico and Guatemala to stop these children, to basically seal them into these countries where many of these children face death. It’s a serious issue with these children, they have been threatened multiple times. We need to see these children not as an immigration issue, but as a refugee issue — like we did with Cubans and Haitians. There have been extraordinary moments in our history where we have stood up and said, ‘we need to do the right thing,’ and that’s what we need to do with these kids.