Three-year-olds, immigration law, and the presidential candidates


David Wilson and Jane Guskin explain what’s wrong with the mainstream immigration debate, including the Sanders/Clinton pseudo-discussion in their March 9 debate:

“The media and the politicians treat the migration either as a natural disaster (‘flooding over the border’) or as a second-rate science fiction movie (‘the aliens are invading’) — with either scenario seen as deserving an aggressive response.

“But in the real world, the asylum seekers and other migrants that some call ‘illegals’ are human beings pushed from their homes by economic dislocation or fear of violence, often risking their lives for a chance at a brighter future.  And U.S. foreign and economic policies are intimately linked to these ‘push factors.'”

Neither Clinton nor Sanders — and certainly not any of the posturing demagogues in the center ring of the Republican circus — comes to terms with the destructive U.S. foreign policy that has distorted Mexican and Central American political and economic realities for decades. During the 1980s, the U.S. backed repressive right-wing regimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and funded and armed the contras attempting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. The U.S. “war on drugs” since the 1990s contributed further to militarization.

NAFTA destroyed Mexican jobs (and small-scale agriculture), strengthening mega-businesses at the expense of workers in both the United States and Mexico. (And now we face the looming threat of TPP to further expand misguided “free trade” policies.)

A complicated calculus of flight from war and gang membership in the United States and deportations, along with the über-militarization that spread weapons across Central America, created the climates of violence that send today’s Central American migrants north, seeking safe haven.

This post also published in News Day. 

Donald Trump leads the Republican immigration debate with unremitting fear-mongering and outright lies. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio follow his anti-immigrant lead.

Today’s official U.S. response is also shameful. Our national policy calls for jailing Central American mothers and their children, in order to discourage others from following the road north. Despite constant reports of denial of medical care and despite the clear violation of prior court orders on treatment of minors, mothers and children remain in detention centers. According to the Washington Post:

“By keeping the families in custody, officials hope to set an example and prevent a recurrence of the 2014 border crisis, during which tens of thousands of Central American minors and families surged into the United States. …

The WaPo article continues, saying that when a mother requests medical help, “saying she or her children are suffering from stress or sickness,” they are told that they should withdraw their motion to suspend deportation.

While both Clinton and Sanders promised not to deport children, that’s an empty promise. As The Nation pointed out the morning after the debate:

“That’s not to say that Clinton or Sanders, as president, couldn’t direct their Department of Homeland Security secretaries to issue enforcement memos that de-prioritize the deportation of children and those who have no criminal record. Except President Obama’s secretaries of homeland security have issued these very memos (for those without criminal records in particular), and, still, enforcement regularly sweeps up undocumented immigrants who have never been convicted of crimes.”

Meanwhile, the deportation machine grinds on. Applicants for asylum who have attorneys have some chance: those without attorneys have little to none. Yet, the Justice Department argues that no one in deportation proceedings needs an attorney, not even children. The ACLU and other advocates are suing to require counsel for children facing deportation. In a deposition, Jack Weil, assistant chief immigration judge in EOIR’s Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, and the person responsible for coordinating training of other immigration judges, asserted that children do not need attorneys:

“’I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds,’ Weil said. ‘It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.’

“He repeated his claim twice in the deposition.”

Three and four-year-olds cannot understand immigration law. Can’t presidential candidates do better?

Further reading:

Immigration News

Failing to connect the dots on immigration: The Democratic Debate in Miami (Monthly Review)

Clinton and Sanders promised not to deport child migrants. Should we cheer? (The Nation, 3/10/16)

U.S. holding families in custody to keep others from crossing the border (Washington Post, 3/5/216)

Voiceless: Immigrant children thrown to the wolves (ImmigrationProf Blog, 3/5/216)

Can a 3-year-old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so. (Washington Post, 3/5/16)


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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