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Child Refugee Emergency: “A Test of Values” for the GOP, the President and America

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Amidst continued calls from the GOP for shotgun proceedings that would result in expedited deportations of all but a handful of child refugees, a series of opinion pieces challenge our leaders and our nation to respond with the ideals of fairness and compassion, and a number of news pieces lay out the risks associated with changes in law that would undercut fair and full proceedings. See below:

New York Times Editorial Board, “America’s Test at the Border: “The crisis of young migrants at the Texas border is a test of American values, one of those surprise exams that history now and then throws our way: Here are 57,000 helpless children. We are a nation of 300 million. Do we spit on them, or give them blankets and beds?  It is a test that many are flunking. In Arizona, no surprise, people are losing their minds. Hearing that migrant children were being sent to the town of Oracle, a county sheriff instigated a protest that ensnared a busload of bewildered YMCA campers. A disbarred former county attorney running for governor has an ad showing a Mexican flag swallowing up a map of Arizona and the slogan ‘Before It’s Too Late.’ …With Republicans in a frenzy, public support for immigrants is being tested.  Leadership is needed.  The president, who has sought $3.7 billion from Congress, including humanitarian and legal aid for the migrant children, has the better argument.  He has every right to defend his policies on moral as well as practical grounds, to confront the Tea Party’s fear and loathing with a call to treat traumatized children as refugees and protect them from harm.  It would be good to see Mr. Obama join other Democrats and Republicans in making the moral and legal case for compassionate action, to lead a backlash against the nativist backlash.  And while he’s at it, he can reaffirm his commitment to protecting, through executive action this year, millions of immigrants who have been here for years, who deserve the chance to legalize that Congress has refused them. He made this vow before the border crisis exploded; we could all benefit from hearing him repeat it.”

Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, in a Washington Post op-ed entitled, “To stem the child migrant crisis, first stop poverty and violence: “The conservatives who oppose President Obama’s request for emergency funds for the crisis criticize him for dealing only with the symptoms and not with the ‘root cause’ of the problem. They are half right — but the half that’s wrong is very, very wrong. For them, the root cause is a lax immigration law, weak protections or insufficiently severe punishments. But no punishment, no wall and no army can solve this problem.  I often say that poverty needs no passport to travel. If these children — some of whom are supported in their quest by their families, some of whom make the trip of their own accord — are willing to risk their lives atop the infamous train through Mexico known as La Bestia (‘the beast’), face the rape and abuse that many children experience during the journey, sell their possessions and their bodies, and give their life savings to unscrupulous smugglers, what else could possibly deter them? What can the United States do to these children that would be worse than what they are already suffering? And why is such a great country even asking that question?”

Julia Preston of the New York Times, “Rush to Deport Young Migrants Could Trample Asylum Claims: “Interviews over the last week with many young migrants like Andrea who made the journey to the border suggest the risks of accelerating initial screenings.  Minors questioned shortly after being caught in locations, like Border Patrol stations, where they may feel unsafe often do not disclose dangers at home or abuses suffered during their journey, lawyers who are counseling them say.  They are disoriented, wary of strangers and sometimes traumatized, and they have little understanding of the legal process…In the case of Andrea H., the full story of her abuse emerged long after her brief screenings by the Border Patrol.  The agents who questioned her not only failed to discover that she was a victim of sex trafficking but also returned her to Mexico, missing the key fact that she is Honduran.”

Dara Lind of Vox, The process Congress wants to use for child migrants is a disaster”: “The way the law is written, any Mexican child should be presumed to be in danger until proven to be safe by the screening process. But UNHCR found that in practice, Border Patrol agents are assuming that children are not in danger until proven otherwise. The way agents are actually implementing the screenings puts the burden on the children to prove they are being persecuted or trafficked. According to the report, ‘in all sectors (of the border) visited, CBP communicated to UNHCR that Mexican unaccompanied alien children are always returned to Mexico.’”

Michelle Goldberg, contributor to The Nation, in an op-ed entitled, “Yes, Mr. President, the Border Kids Are Refugees:  “Greater border enforcement is not going to stop desperate parents from trying to get their kids out of imminent danger. Migrants know they’re likely to be deported, and many reach the United States only after multiple failed attempts. ‘Many children say, ‘It’s a sure death if I stay, and it’s a possible death if I go,’’ says [Fulbright fellow in El Salvador Elizabeth] Kennedy.  Treating this as a refugee crisis does not mean simply opening the borders, which could empower the smuggling rings that profit by bringing children to the United States. It means providing safety for the kids who are already here and working with the UN to create centers in their home countries where those whose lives are in danger can apply for asylum in the United States or other nations. ‘To me, it’s recognizing reality,’ [Rep. Zoe] Lofgren says. ‘You can say it’s not a refugee crisis, but it is, and we have tools in our toolbox, including UNHCR, to deal with a refugee crisis.’”

Donald Kerwin, Executive Director of the Center for Migration Studies, in a Huffing Post blog, entitled, “Why the Central American Children Migrants Need Full Adjudication of Their Protection Claims: “Repeal of the TVPRA [Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008] would do little to address the factors driving child migration from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and would prevent these children from receiving a full, fair and independent determination of whether they would likely be killed, tortured or trafficked if returned home.  To craft the appropriate set of short- and long-term responses to this humanitarian disaster requires an accurate analysis of its causes. A series of recent reports have identified multiple causes, including the threat of gang, cartel and domestic violence; official corruption in sending states; criminal impunity; poverty and lack of opportunity; and the strong desire for family unity…The TVPRA has been widely characterized as an exercise in unintended consequences in the form of a wide enforcement loophole. In fact, it is as much an enforcement measure, as a humanitarian tool…The presence of legal avenues to admission for even limited numbers of truly desperate children would save lives and could tip the balance for many families now facing the Hobson’s choice of whether to risk their children’s lives by migration or by staying at home.”