The chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration has called upon the Obama administration to halt any plans to send back unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors who have been flooding across the U.S. border.
“This is a very vulnerable population which has been targeted by organized crime networks in Central America,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo in a press release Wednesday. “To return them to these criminal elements without a proper adjudication of their cases is unconscionable.”
The bishops have asked the Obama administration to reconsider their proposed request to Congress for “fast track” authority to expedite the removal of unaccompanied children coming to the United States from Central America. Currently, children from non-contiguous countries are permitted to remain in the United States until an immigration judge considers their request for asylum or immigration relief.
“As a nation which has traditionally offered safe haven to those who are persecuted, this proposed policy undercuts our values as a nation,” added Elizondo, who is also auxiliary bishop of Seattle. “The prospect of the United States sending vulnerable children back into the hands of violent criminals in their countries raises troubling questions about our moral character.”
The bishops say that under the policy of “expedited” removal, an illegal immigrant is questioned by an immigration enforcement official without formal legal training in an effort to ascertain their fear of return. However, if the immigrant cannot articulate a “credible” fear, they are immediately returned to their home country. According to the bishops, children often have no legal assistance and cannot articulate their fears adequately to meet the standard.
“What we need is bipartisan cooperation to ensure that these children are protected,” said Elizondo. “This is an occasion in which we must rise above partisan politics and stand by our principles, namely compassion, justice, and adherence to our international obligations.”