A few weeks ago my husband and I took our children to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time.  As an immigration attorney, I was especially proud to provide for my children the awe-inspiring experience of seeing this beacon of hope in person.  I was honored to share the experience with them of arriving by boat to see Lady Liberty the same way my own ancestors were welcomed into America three generations ago.  I read to my children her most famous inscription:  
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-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I explained to my daughters that this statue and the words written so eloquently upon her embody the foundational idea that the country we live in is a sanctuary for those who are escaping persecution, terror and unthinkable violence.  I saw the pride on their faces.  The same pride that I have to live in a country that respects my religious views, that respects my choices as a women and believes educating my daughters is just as important as educating other people’s sons.  I told them that we live in a place where people have the freedom to work hard and pull themselves up and feel safe in their pursuits. 
But I fear that I may not told my children the whole truth.  A sample of the news articles today from publications all over the United States read a very different story than that which I told my girls.  From the Washington Post to the Associated Press to Fox News and beyond, journalists are reporting the plight of people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador seeking shelter and Asylum in this country and being met with indefinite detention or expedited removal.  The stories of many of these people are those of the most fear-provoking nightmares.  Many have already experienced their young sons forcibly initiated into gangs and terrible violence to their entire family if they tried to stop it.  Others experienced their daughters kidnapped and raped and have watched their family-members brutally killed before their eyes and then heard the threats that they, themselves, will endure that same fate. 
The U.S. is a signatory of the 1967 Protocol to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  Article 33 states,  “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”  This is the “Principle of nonrefoulement.”  This bedrock principle forbids the deportation of a refugee into an area, usually their home country, where the person is likely to be subjected again to persecution, torture or death.   Our U.S. asylum laws requires that when a migrant in expedited or reinstatement of removal expresses a fear of return to their country of origin, they be referred to a US citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer for an interview to determine whether their fear might qualify them for asylum or other protection.  Many of today’s papers report that these “credible fear” or “reasonable fear” assessment by agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are being conducted in crowded rooms by officers still wearing their gun holsters.  If these people are truly fearful of those in authority in their country, their psychological ability to speak about their fears clearly and convincingly under these conditions is not realistic. 
I, myself, have interviewed many children who have been released to extended family-members in Georgia from these detainment facilities.  I always ask the children to please tell me their stories, while sitting in my office with the offer of a drink and snack, where I tell them they are safe now and to please trust me.  Even outside of the detainment facilities, many months after entering, sitting in my office with a cup of tea and no gun paraphernalia in sight, many of them are very reticent to talk.  They have been taught that talking about the threats will bring severe and tragic retribution.  How then can the officers fully screen all the people entering our county under the conditions as described at the detention facilities?
When I do gain an unaccompanied minor’s trust, and he or she tells me his or her story, I sit trying to mask my own shock that a child could have experienced these horrors already in his or her young life.  These children tell me of hiding in their homes from the traffickers and from the gangs.  They tell me of being forced to watch the rape of their friends.  They tell me of the cars that slow beside them as they are trying to walk to school, and being told they must sell drugs or they and their families will suffer the severe consequences.  Then they tell me of their journeys that brought them here.  When the fear becomes just too much to handle at home, their parents put every penny into paying a coyote to smuggle them across the border.  They ride on top of rickety trains where they must jump off at the time they are told.  They walk for days without food and in constant fear.  They endure harassment, heat, and thirst, all for the hope of safety.  And then they tell me of the day that they crossed in.  About the men with guns that greeted them, and the conditions they stayed in here, in the U.S.  When I ask what they want for their future, they all tell their simple wishes: to be able to walk to school without fear, to be able to work a legitimate job, to be reunited with their families.  I will do everything I can to help you, I say. What else can I say?
But my question today really is – what can I tell my children about these other children who are running for their lives?  Do we live in a country that will help them?  I understand and sympathize with President Obama’s difficult position.  He does not want to encourage more children to take the dangerous journey into our country.  If he continues to allow the children in though, to provide adequate counsel and asylum for those who are deserving, more will come and flood our limited resources at the border.  We have plenty of problems within our own boarders.  Should we be solving, or attempting to solve, the problems in all the other countries as well?  These are difficult questions, and I do not envy his position.  However, my question remains, what do I tell my children?  Are we a country that protects and provides asylum to the tired, poor and huddled masses?  Or are we a country that throws children in detention and then returns them to those who wish them grave harm? 

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