This is a time to remember Emma Lazarus’ inspiring words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Unfortunately, the current crop of politicians from both major political parties—in their great majority—have long since forsaken these compassionate words in favor of their mantra “Deport them now!”
And what about the undisputed fact that deporting the children back to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador would be life threatening? These politicians obviously don’t give a damn.
As Washington is confronted with an exploding humanitarian crisis without precedent in our history, the tens of thousands of Central American children who have crossed U.S. borders face an uncertain fate, with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. One favorable factor in the situation is aspects of a 2008 law enacted by Congress and signed by Bush which makes it nearly impossible to repatriate unaccompanied minors to Central America without letting them appear before an immigration judge.
A mounting backlog in immigration courts since then has allowed most Central American minors to stay for years while their cases wind their way through the legal system. Once they are assigned to social workers, as the law requires, the overwhelming majority are sent to live with their parents or relatives in the United States.
The Labor Fightback Network urges that these young people be treated as refugees, which would give them far more protection than does current immigration law. At the same time, the LFN continues its full backing for the just and humane demands being pressed by the immigrant rights movement to reform the immigrant laws currently on the books.
Rights of Refugees in U.S.
Refugees are people whose applications for asylum have been accepted and are allowed to stay in the U.S.
Under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention), a refugee is defined as a person who
“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or return there because there is a fear of persecution…”
There are three requirements for a person to win refugee status:
- He or she must fear persecution in the home country.
- Credible evidence must be adduced that he or she would be persecuted on account of one of five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or being part of a particular social group.
- He or she must establish that the government in the home country is either involved in the persecution or unable to control the conduct of private actors.
It has been said that the legal basis of the refugee admission program embodies the American tradition of granting refugee status to diverse groups fearing persecution. On October 3, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared, “Those who seek refuge here in America will get it.”
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is an agency that is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. The U.S. works with UNHCR and is committed to work with other governments and international organizations to protect victims to ensure thattheir survival needs for food, health care and shelter are met. U.S. policy calls for the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homelands.
How the Right-Wing Has Sought to Distort Refugee Law
As part of its McCarthyite, “Anti-Communist” campaign, the right-wing has tried to utilize refugee law to admit the most reactionary, anti-working class elements while shutting the door to anyone with even an iota of progressive thinking.
Here are two cases in point. Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese, said the Justice Department’s policy was to “encourage” and “expedite” asylum and legalization applications only for Nicaraguans because “they’re refugees from a Marxist, totalitarian state.”
More than a million Cubans left the island after the Cuban revolution in 1959, the great majority of whom had supported the fascist dictator Fulgencio Batista. They were warmly received by the U.S., no questions asked. The U.S. used many of them in the failed attempt to overthrow the new government through the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
U.S. Groups Which Support Asylum and Treating the Central American Children as Refugees
There is growing support within the immigrant rights movement to win asylum and refugee status for the children, spearheaded by the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana.
The U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Progressive Caucus issued this statement under the heading“Kids First: A Response to the Southern Border Humanitarian Crisis Executive Summary.”
“The United States and the international community have long recognized the unique needs of children seeking asylum. As an extremely vulnerable population, unaccompanied migrant children need special care and protection. We must not allow politics to jeopardize any child’s safety and we should immediately reject attempts to solve the migration crisis on our southern border by circumventing due process or rule of law. Calls for expediting removal of children without due process, back to the violence they have escaped, is an attempt to simplify a complex situation and it is a derelict of U.S. responsibility under international standards. When examining the reasons for migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found nearly 60 percent of children had fled violence and were in need of international protection. Only two of 404 children interviewed reported that they had traveled to the U.S. because of rumors of potential immigration reform.
“An effective response must recognize that this is largely a refugee crisis and must place the best interest of the children first. Abrogation or repeal of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, including the protections to children arriving from non-contiguous countries, will do nothing to alleviate the situation and could place children in harm’s way.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus offered a number of recommendations, the first of which is “Current laws to protect children should not be repealed, amended or circumvented, including the right to seek asylum and TVPRA of 2008.”
Need to Mobilize
As history shows, only united and independent mobilizations can create real change. We cannot leave it to Obama to determine the fate of the immigrant community. We must continue to build on the actions of immigrant youth and DREAMers and create a mass and united movement — together with all the allies of the immigrant community, particularly the labor movement — with demonstrations in the streets and workplaces.
We have no time to waste. We must mobilize now! Together, in action, we must demand:
- Asylum for all unaccompanied children refugees at the border!
- Defeat of all efforts to deny or limit those due process rights for children specified by the 2008 law!
- Legal services provided for all children facing threat of deportation!
- Immediate end to deportations!
- Deferred Action for all!
- Amnesty/Legalization without penalty!
- Demilitarize the border now!