I remember watching the nightly television news in the 1990s and seeing a 15-year-old Chinese girl trembling before a U.S. immigration judge. Despite having committed no crime, she was shackled and sobbing. She couldn’t speak English, and it was clear she had no understanding of what the judge was saying or what would happen to her.
Her parents had sent her to the United States in the cargo hold of a container ship because she had been born in violation of China’s rigid family-planning laws — and was therefore denied citizenship, access to health care and education.
By the time the girl appeared before the immigration judge, she had already been detained for eight months. Even more shocking: After she was granted political asylum, she was detained for four more months before she was released.
This situation would not be allowed to occur today because Congress has enacted laws to provide basic humanitarian protections to unaccompanied immigrant children.
The administration says these laws prevent immigrant children from being removed from the country, when in fact the goal is to ensure that these children are detained for as little time as possible and only in an appropriate setting, they receive adequate food and water, and that they are given the opportunity to apply for asylum.
Under these laws, each child has a right to make their case before a trained asylum officer. If the hearing demonstrates the need for protection by admission to the United States, we’re obligated to provide it. And in cases where a child does not qualify for asylum or other forms of relief, they’re returned safely to their home country.
I know the intent of these laws because I authored two of them. They are not loopholes.It’s important to understand why Congress acted to thus ensure basic human dignity for children.
By Dianne Feinstein for THE WASHINGTON POST
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