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America Should Treat Vulnerable Children Seeking Refuge as Vulnerable Children Seeking Refuge

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“It is not a ‘crisis’ to follow our laws, do what is right and manage this challenge as best we can. It would be a crisis – a moral crisis – if we did not.”

 As candidate and as president, Donald Trump and his henchman Stephen Miller portrayed vulnerable kids seeing refuge in America as gang members and dangerous criminals. They relied on the dehumanizing lie of “catch and release” to pretend that these individuals would abscond if not held in detention or barred from a fair chance at seeking refuge.

For example, in his last 2020 debate with Joe Biden, Trump said this

“Catch and release is a disaster. A murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in — we would take their name, we have to release them into our country. And then you say they come back. Less than 1% of the people come back.”

It’s all a lie. As a recent report from the American Immigration Council (AIC) found, based on a decade of federal government data, 83% of all non detained immigrants attended all hearings. When they can find lawyers to represent them (since there is no universal right to counsel in immigration proceedings), 96% attend all hearings. Among those who were part of a cost-effective case management program (that the Trump administration ended), 99% complied with court dates.

The Trump team and other Republicans and restrictionists used this cynical and repeated framing to justify a web of cruel policies that gutted America’s refugee and asylum system by executive fiat: zero tolerance; family separations; family detention; expanded detention in horrid conditions; Remain in Mexico; metering; third-country agreements; dramatically increasing barriers to asylum access; politicizing immigration courts and judges; putting Border Patrol officers in charge of asylum screenings; invoking a 1944 health law to expel one and all; and much, much more. Their goal of Trump’s lawless policy was to prevent asylum applicants from having their cases heard and adjudicated in the U.S. See here for more of the cruel failures and Trump’s real record on these issues.

Now, the Biden administration is trying to undo these cruel and failed policies. As DHS Secretary Mayorkas said yesterday, these asylum seekers “should be able to present those claims in an orderly, efficient and safe way.”

Let’s all not lose sight of the actual kids who are involved. They hail from Central America, Haiti, Cameroon, Cuba, Venezuela and beyond. They present themselves at the border to apply for asylum. They come to America because they believe in the American promise. They believe America is a beacon of hope. They believe that once American officials hear their story, what they fled and why they fear for their lives if returned, they will be granted asylum and welcomed into America.

The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

We believe in an America that protects vulnerable children fleeing violence. We believe in an America that rejects the cruel and sadistic policies of the past four years. We believe that we can still tackle big challenges and balance the need for orderliness and the need to protect refugees. It is not a ‘crisis’ to follow our laws, do what is right and manage this challenge as best we can. It would be a crisis – a moral crisis – if we did not.