The United States of America is giving immigrant children, as young as six, an almost impossible choice: Stay in the country and be placed in a foster care system or be reunited with your parents in your home country, where you can die.
Unsurprisingly, most children are ill-equipped to make a choice on their own, HuffPost reports.
One of these children is 14-year-old Nico, whose name has been changed since he is underage, who lives in a shelter in Long Island.
Nico was wrenched away from his father after the family crossed into the USA a couple of months ago. In mid-July, his father was deported. When Alexander Holtzman, an attorney for the Safe Passage Project approaches him and puts the question in front of him, Nico does not look up. Instead, he draws stick figures of him and his parents standing under clouds.
Nico is one of the 559 children held in the U.S. who may be forced into this decision. After many of their parents were coerced into deportation, the government has been trying to locate these people in their home countries and ask them if they wish for the return of their child or for the child to remain in the U.S. However, since the government data is inadequate, many times children have to decide their fate on their own.
The way the questions are worded does not help much. For instance, the form asks, “Do you want to go back to your home country where you expressed a fear of return? Do you want to stay here and be in long-term foster care? Do you want to try and find a relative you’ve never even met yet and live with them?”
This strong language may be the reason why so many children find it so hard to make a decision, and so go back and forth on their decision.
Beth Krause, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid Society’s immigration youth project, said one of the nine-year-old her organization works with could not decide what to do. He first wanted to stay with his uncle in the U.S. but when that sponsorship did not work out, he wished to be sent back to Guatemala to his parents. Recently, his desire to stay in the U.S. has reawakened. A seven-year-old who has cerebral palsy can only nod “yes” or “no” in response to these questions.
Attorney for the children worry that they simply do not have the maturity required to make these decisions. Some of the older children have an idea of the gang violence they have to suffer in their home countries, the younger children just cannot factor in this threat in their decision making and want to be sent home to their parents. According to Priya Konings, the interim manager for Kids in Need of Defense, the only option available to these children when it comes to gangs in their home countries in Central America is Join or Die. Immigration official Hope Frye said a six-year-old Honduran girl she met had her wrist burned by gang members after her uncle refused to join.
It is a shame that children have to choose between a life with some semblance of security and the essential love and care of their parents.
It will be America’s enduring shame as a country that, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world and vocal defender of human rights, it could not house those in need of refuge.
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