WASHINGTON—Educators, community partners and legal aid providers came together today to urge members of Congress to act immediately to address the myriad issues impacting unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the United States and to call for an immediate end to “rocket dockets” and deportations targeting unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals.
In a congressional briefing focused on what has become a growing international humanitarian and refugee crisis, featured speakers demanded that the federal government put the safety and well-being of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children first, while working to resolve the root causes of the forced migration. Speakers also drew attention to the increased policing of communities and damaging enforcement measures that have caused a number of students to be detained on their way to school.
In addition, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) provided an update on the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act—a bill introduced in the House late last month that would ensure access to counsel, legal orientation programs and post-release services to children and other groups in immigration proceedings.
Following are statements from the speakers at today’s briefing:
“Targeting women and children for deportation who are fleeing violence and persecution is wrong. Until we can be sure that no mother or child will face abuse, torture, or death in their home country, the United States should end raids and deportations. The time-honored
American values of offering refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution around the world must be maintained,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
“As educators, we have the responsibility to protect the educational rights of all children. The human impact of deportations is incalculable—tearing families apart, interrupting children’s education and school attendance, and disrupting communities and workplaces throughout the country,” said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. “We must respond with empathy and in accordance with our American values. We cannot erode fundamental protections for asylum seekers and victims of persecution and trafficking, and violate the principles of fairness and due process that are the foundations of the American legal system.”
“It’s clear that escalated enforcement operations have caused harm to children, their families and their communities,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. “Our American values call on us to defend those most vulnerable, especially children, in their greatest time of need. We are deeply concerned that the administration continues to support enforcement actions that separate families—actions that take sleeping children from their beds and back into harm’s way. We urge the administration to treat Central American children seeking refuge fairly and with the compassion that every child deserves.”
“There’s a clear hemispheric bias in the way we treat women and children fleeing violence from Central America. Our legal and political system should be working on preventing these families from being forced back into dangerous situations, not raiding their homes and funneling people into the detention and deportation system,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
“Without legal representation, families and unaccompanied children face a complex and unfair legal process that is nearly impossible for them to navigate,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense. “All need and deserve due process, without which we risk returning them to grave harm. A robust asylum process that ensures due process and fundamental fairness is the most critical component in addressing this refugee crisis.”
“America has laws that allow for people to seek asylum and protection. But Kimberly never got a real chance to do that. She needs to be free, to be able to fight her case, and she needs to be with her family,” said Kelsey Rivas, the classmate of a student directly impacted by Department of Homeland Security enforcement actions.
“The influx of children who have fled the violence in parts of Central America is creating a humanitarian crisis in local jurisdictions throughout the nation,” said Nancy Navarro, member of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland. “Many children require medical attention, are victims of sexual abuse and have experienced severe trauma. It is important for local governments to understand the scope of this issue in order to be prepared and respond to the needs of this vulnerable population of children.”
“Our nation’s immigration courts are where noncitizen children have their first experience with the United States’ system of justice. The challenges to them in this venue, where appointed counsel are not provided and the law applied is complicated (and sometimes poorly understood even by lawyers), are overwhelming. Immigration judges strive to provide due process for all, but children are a vulnerable population that many times is not able to successfully navigate the immigration court system without special accommodations that our current court structure cannot provide. We plan to highlight problems and suggest realistic, achievable solutions at this important, multidimensional briefing,” said Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, IFPTE.