Whether motivated by cowardice, as I contend, or by right wing extremism, as my colleague Matt Kolken argues in his comment to my July 8 post about the White House response to the human rights crisis at the border involving more than 50,000 child refugees from violence in Central America, it is clear that the president is nervous, to say the least, about the idea of affording these children the right to asylum hearings which they are guaranteed under current law.

Nor is he alone among Democratic leaders. Now, Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, is also reluctant to grant these children their legal rights. The Hill reports that Hoyer wants these children to be deported except in "extraordinary circumstances". See Hoyer: Most Kids should be sent home (July 8).

The only problem is that this is not what our law says. As I have mentioned previously, the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Protection Act of 2008 provides that children who are not from contiguous countries cannot be summarily returned when they arrive at the US border, but must be given hearings first to determine if they have the right to asylum or other relief. Section 235 of this law also provides that the best interests of the children concerned, including access to counsel, shall be the paramount factor in conducting these proceedings. It also waives some of the usual statutory bars to applying for asylum, such as the one-year deadline.

There can be no question that allowing children from non-contiguous counties to apply for asylum protection is not just an incidental afterthought, but is central to the purpose of this law. This makes attempts by either the White House or Congressional leaders in either party to ignore or flout the asylum laws in the cases of children arriving at the border from Central America all the more reprehensible.

The Hill
also reports (UN pushes for migrants to be called refugees, July 8) that the Obama administration now wants to change the law and replace it with one which would allow Border Patrol agents to deport the children or allow them a hearing. One can imagine how many children would be given hearings in those circumstances; 1 out of 1,000 would probably be an overly high estimate.

There is also no shortage of hypocrisy about enforcing the immigration laws on the Republican side of the aisle. When the law calls for mass deportation of unauthorized immigrants, the Republicans are in favor of draconian enforcement and critical of the president for making any exceptions at all.

But when the law affords children fleeing gang violence in their home countries the right to an asylum hearing, then following the law is apparently the last thing that the Republicans are interested in doing. According to the above article in The Hill, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R. Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stated:

"Most of the money requested in the president's supplemental [appropriations request to Congress] seems geared toward processing Central Americans than stopping the surge itself."

But "processing" these children for asylum hearings is exactly what the law requires.

However, while America's politicians in both parties are focusing on finding ways and means of depriving Central American children fleeing gang violence of their rights under US law, the UN is advocating a more humanitarian approach to the law, based on the reality of the danger that many of these children would face if returned to their countries.

The Hill quotes UNHCR official Leslie Velez as saying in testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee last month:

"Unaccompanied children and families who fear for their lives and freedoms must not be forcibly returned without access to proper asylum procedures."

The Hill also reports:

"In El Salvador, at least 135,000 people, or 2.1 per cent of the population, have been forced to leave their homes, the vast majority due to gang extortion and violence. according to U.N. figures. That's more than twice the percentage displaced by Colombia's brutal civil war, the U.N. says."


The Hill
continues:

"Immigration experts in the US and Central America say the flow of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador is likely to rise as the two countries experience more gang-related violence.

'They are leaving for some reason. Let's not send them back in a mechanical way, but rather evaluate the reasons they left their country', Fernando Protti, regional representative for the U.N. refugee agency, told the Associated Press."

For at least the past three decades, ever since some three million unauthorized immigrants were granted legal status during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the American public has been hearing endless speeches from pundits and politicians in both parties about how important it is to enforce our immigration laws, not to disregard or ignore them. Anyone who is serious about enforcing the immigration laws of the United States should be doing everything possible to make sure that not one single Central American child is turned away at our border, or sent home, without first being given the right to a full and fair asylum hearing before an immigration judge.