A Crisis of Conscience: Don’t Blame the Children for Being Refugees
July 29, 2014 By Immigration Attorney, Sean Lewis
The American media and many U.S. politicians are a twisting the reality of the border crisis to serve their own agenda. There is a true humanitarian crisis causing people to flee extreme violence in Central America. These people are the most vulnerable segment we as Americans have faced since Vietnamese refugees (the “boat people”) started arriving in the late 1970’s. During that crisis, the media did not blame the refugees themselves for seeking protection in the United States. Unfortunately, times have changed and Americans are in a crisis of their own: a crisis of conscience.
The media and certain politicians, including Tennessee’s own Representative Marsha Blackburn, are on the “bash the children” bandwagon. In a certain sense, blaming the children and Obama for a crisis caused by rampant corruption, dire poverty and extreme violence committed with impunity by gang members is popular today. Many Americans are simply fed up with hearing our paid and elected representatives refuse to deal with solving the broken immigration system.
The border crisis is symptomatic of a president and law makers who are totally focused on votes rather than doing their jobs. Obama could have addressed immigration reform as he promised when he was first elected but he raced into health reform instead. He threatens executive action, but, of course, is waiting closer to the next round of elections to do so. House Republicans and Tea Party officials have always vowed to obstruct immigration reform and continue to do so to this day. The American media is eating this up. Take for instance Marsha Blackburn’s recent comments about the current refugee crisis:
“The thing that is incredibly sad to me is that these children and families that are in Central America who are being preyed on by the Coyotes are just pawns in this administration’s political agenda, and this push to force the issue of immigration reform.”
“It is imperative that the president be resolute, that he take the leadership in this situation, that he work with these governors to make sure the border is secured and that he makes sure to let these countries know these children will be coming back home. They are not going to be staying here.”
“The public health security of our nation, issues with smallpox and scabies and TB—those are true concerns for Americans and for the Border Patrol working to end this, and the National Guard who are on the border, and for the direct-care providers in these facilities trying to care for these children.”
The “incredible sadness” in Rep. Blackburn’s comments is that she makes unfounded claims that these children are diseased and are pawns of the 2012 Obama administration’s policy to grant work permits to certain undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children. Of course, those seeking refuge from murder and rapes arriving in 2014 do not even qualify for 2012 deferred action status. They are placed into deportation proceedings. In terms of which of these refugees were properly vaccinated or have scabies and smallpox, Blackburn has absolutely no data. The “sad” Ms. Blackburn and others like her absolutely have no plans to resolve anything whatsoever. Of course, these disease-ridden children and Obama are the cause of the violence and humanitarian crisis.
This is not the party of Ronald Reagan, this is not the same dialogue taken to refer to the Vietnamese Boat People or refugees by our media years ago. This is a crisis of our own conscience and a total lack of leadership and honesty in government and in the media.
Sean Lewis is an immigration attorney based in Nashville, Tennessee. He may be reached at 615-226-4236.
By Sean Lewis, Esq. Immigration Attorney, Nashville, TN www.MusicCityVisa.com July 4, 2014
Obama Is the Refouler in Chief Who Killed Immigration Reform
The humanitarian crisis involving unaccompanied minors from Central America highlights our failed policies at all levels of our dysfunctional government. Rather than address immigration reform as he promised voters before he was elected, Obama obsessively crammed health care reform down our throats and created the atmosphere of distrust leading the House Republicans to ignore the issue of immigration reform. The House Republicans probably would have found another excuse to avoid fixing our broken immigration system, but they cite Obama Care to justify obstructionism so that is what we are supposed to believe. Putting aside the blame-mongering, Obama has boldly announced that he is sending immigration judges to the border to more quickly deport unaccompanied minors back to the violence and poverty they have fled in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. To justify such a cavalier move, President Obama blames the Republicans and the Republicans blame Obama for the crisis.
The saddest part of this theatrical performance is that Obama is ready, willing and able to violate the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture by summarily sending a class of refugees back to persecution or torture without due process of law. He is a King and we are all his subjects.
There is little difference between waves of refugees fleeing persecution, torture and death from Nazi Germany, Syria and Central America, given the dire country conditions currently in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Those countries are unwilling and unable to protect children and their families from murder, rapes and torture by gang members who operate as a de facto government. The gangs now seek to recruit children in the elementary schools, especially in Guatemala. Refusal to join, for instance the Mara 18 gang, often ends up in the murder, kidnapping and torture of family members.
The majority of people living in Central America live in such dire poverty that private security or protection is unavailable to them. Sending a child to the United States, via Mexico atop a freight train is a desperate measure no parent can imagine. Once in Mexico, corrupt police, gang members and human smugglers often beat and rape the migrants.
This writer personally observed the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas break into tears in front of a group of several thousand immigration attorneys last week upon recounting a story he heard from his morning briefing on the border situation. He described a 12 year-old child carrying his dead mother to a border patrol station who had been killed just shy of the U.S. Border. This writer has assisted many women and children from Central America who were victims of brutal rapes and violence in their asylum cases before the immigration courts. These stories are real and involve the most vulnerable and fragile of all human being, poor women and children, many of whom are bona fide refugees.
Denying the opportunity to apply for asylum, or sending these folks back in a summary fashion ignores the lessons we learned as a nation following World War II. The United States has obligations under the Convention Against Torture which include not sending victims of persecution back to the persecutor. That obligation is called the doctrine of “non-refoulment” (non-return). Obama appears ready and able to ignore international obligations and smear our reputation in the eyes of the world for political points by summary removal of unaccompanied minors.
If Obama gets his way, he will not only go down as the President who has deported more immigrants in U.S. History, he will be known as the “Refouler in Chief”.
Recent major media reports and White House press releases verify what our office has known for quite some time: extreme violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have forced many unaccompanied minors to cross the U.S. Border and have flooded young migrant shelters in record numbers. President Obama characterized the surge as an “urgent humanitarian crisis” and has requested $1.4 billion in extra funding to help house and feed these children. Estimates put the number of unaccompanied minor children (UAC) at 35,000 to date in 2014. By contrast, in 2011, only 6,560 were placed into shelters. By the end of this year, the government estimates some 60,000 UAC’s will attempt entry into the U.S.
Our office has heard grueling stories told by these children, some as young as 10 years old, regarding the killings of family members and of the rampant corruption of the police who are also involved in the violence. Organized criminal groups and gangs such as MS-13, Mara 18, Las Zetas operate with impunity. Starvation is a fact of daily life. Many of our UAC clients live in the Knoxville and Chattanooga area and meet us in our offices in East Tennessee. There is a surprising large population of Guatemalans in Chattanooga and Hondurans in the Knox and Sevier Counties.
Once in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement/Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/ORR), these children are typically placed with family members in the region and placed into removal (deportation) proceedings with the local immigration courts at Memphis or Atlanta. Because attorneys are not provided free of charge in deportation proceedings, many of these children face eventual removal back to situations that may result in death or torture.
The legal options available to the small percentage of unaccompanied minor children (UAC) who obtain immigration counsel are often time-consuming, complex and expensive to pursue. Most involve asylum cases dealing with gang violence which are exceedingly difficult to win. Such cases must be filed before an immigration judge within one year of entering the United States.
The best option usually requires inter alia a juvenile court order finding that reunification with one or both parents in the country of origin is not in the best interests of the minor, and that the minor is dependent and neglected (abandoned) and a ward of the court. Once the juvenile order is made in state court, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ICE attorneys usually agree to terminate removal proceedings to allow a juvenile to seek residency before the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS). The particular petition is called a “Special Immigrant Juvenile” status petition (SIJ).
Many people are surprised when they realize how complex and burdensome this process really is. In fact, the number of agencies involved alone is perplexing: Customs Border Patrol (CBP) makes an arrest, HHS/ORR places the children in shelters, the Department of Justice (DOJ/EOIR) adjudicates the deportation proceedings initiated by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), state juvenile courts adjudicate guardianship/dependency and neglect proceedings and lastly, the USCIS adjudicates applications for permanent residency following adjudication of a Special Immigrant Juvenile Petition! In sum, no less that six (6) separate governmental entities are involved in this process.
Cultural and language differences add an additional barrier. Often these minors “age-out” at age 18 and cannot obtain the proper juvenile court orders. We have had many cases involving 17 year-old UAC clients facing the spectacle of aging-out. Some of these children are reunited with both parents which would seem to be a blessing by most. However, SIJ status will not be granted where such a reunification has occurred. Unaccompanied immigrant children ultimately face an immigration judge and the high burden of proving grounds for asylum exist. Gang-based cases are especially disfavored by the courts and are typically rejected under precedential case law. In sum, unaccompanied immigrant children face challenges in immigration court.