WASHINGTON--Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Migration, called upon the Obama Administration, July 2, to reconsider their proposed request to Congress for "fast track" authority to expedite the removal of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America. Current law permits children from non-contiguous countries to remain in the country until their request for asylum or immigration relief is considered by an immigration judge.
"This is a very vulnerable population which has been targeted by organized crime networks in Central America," said Bishop Elizondo. "To return them to these criminal elements without a proper adjudication of their cases is unconscionable."
Under the policy of "expedited" removal, an individual is questioned by an immigration enforcement official without formal legal training in an effort to ascertain their fear of return. If the individual cannot adequately articulate a "credible" fear, they are immediately returned to their home countries. Children who are traumatized, without legal assistance and reluctant to speak to enforcement personnel rarely meet this standard.
"As a nation which has traditionally offered safe haven to those who are persecuted, this proposed policy undercuts our values as a nation," Bishop Elizondo said. "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."
"What we need is bipartisan cooperation to ensure that these children are protected," said Bishop 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," he said.
USCCB testimony on unaccompanied children can be found at www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/BSeitzfinaltest.pdf