Children’s Advocates Urge Obama to End Deportation of Children
Gabriel Vasquez (Former Staff)Children of Immigrants
Washington – More than 50 leading children’s advocacy organizations today sent a powerful message to President Obama, asking him to protect the best interest of children and end the inhumane raids terrorizing children and families.
Earlier this month, 121 asylum seekers, the majority of whom were children and some as young as 4, were rounded up throughout the United States and forcefully removed from their homes to be deported back to communities facing unprecedented levels of violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle. The raids have triggered uncertainty among the broader immigrant community, with many reports of families fearful of sending their children to school.
In 2015, the Northern Triangle registered 17,422 homicides, a rate higher than four West African countries under siege by the terrorist group Boko Haram, and higher than the death tolls in Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan. The femicide rate in the Northern Triangle is the highest in the world, and El Salvador and Guatemala have the highest homicide rates in the world among children.
“I don’t believe this is the legacy that President Obama wants to leave behind,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus. “Our American values call on us to defend those most vulnerable, not send them back into harm’s way without due process. Pulling sleeping children out of their beds at night is the wrong response to this refugee crisis. We must protect the best interest of these kids.”
Children who make the treacherous 2,000-mile journey from Central America to the United States, thousands unaccompanied and as young as 12, face increasingly dangerous obstacles to safe harbor, undertaking an unfathomable journey in search of safety. The letter urges the Administration to refrain from similar operations targeting unaccompanied children, who are especially vulnerable when repatriated as there is frequently no support system offered to these children upon their arrival in their home country.
“Most of the children KIND has served fled serious violence from which they need and deserve U.S. protection,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). “Rounding up and deporting unaccompanied children back to this harm is unconscionable, and not who we are as a nation.”
In the letter, children’s advocates throughout the country ask President Obama to halt the deportation raids immediately and instead ensure that children and families with valid asylum claims are properly screened, get their day in court and are represented equally and fairly, as dictated by U.S. law. The letter also calls on the Administration to grant protective status to those already in the country.
“First, we are deeply concerned with the impact these raids on the mental and physical health of children targeted, all of whom have already experienced trauma in their home and country and during their journey to the United States,” the letter reads. “Secondly, we are opposed to the Administration’s enforcement-heavy approach that puts children in harm’s way and undermines their due process rights.”
A recent study shows that up to 86 percent of mothers and children whose cases were closed in immigration proceedings in June 2015 went without counsel, and of the families rounded up in the Administration’s latest raids, the majority of refugees interviewed had gone without counsel or never had an asylum hearing.
“The Administration’s message that these raids on women and children and deportations are routine and nothing to worry about is offensive and wrong,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy coordinator of United We Dream. “There should be no ambiguity on this: the U.S. government is sending children to their deaths and the Obama administration must put an end to it immediately.”
“In your State of the Union address you called on Americans to ‘stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable.’ We now ask you to stand up for vulnerable refugee children and families by stopping the raids and upholding the best interest of children,” the letter reads.
Read the full transcript of the powerful letter to President Obama.
First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.firstfocus.org.