WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the United States will be judged by how it treats the thousands of young immigrants showing up on its border, but warned that the U.S. will be forced to send some minors back to dangerous, unfortunate environments nonetheless.
"These are not somebody else's kids. These are our kids," Biden said.
Appealing to lawyers to help represent unaccompanied minors, Biden said it would be a difficult task for an overburdened legal system to assess whether children apprehended on the border meet the criteria for refugee status and whether returning them would risk their physical demise.
At the same time, he said it's not feasible for the U.S. to let children stay here just because they would be better off in the U.S. than in their home countries.
"Judges are going to be sending some kids back to environments that aren't' as good even as the facilities they're living in," Biden said, referring to detention facilities the U.S. has hastily set up to house the influx of immigrants. But their circumstances "will not meet the standards of asylum."
Biden's remarks to people in the legal services community reflected the sense of urgency the Obama administration sees in securing legal representation for more than 57,000 unaccompanied children despite its inability to persuade Congress to agree on emergency funds to address the influx. The White House said fewer than half of those children currently have lawyers.
Biden said the key to stemming the surge is to address the root causes in violence-plagued Central American nations that are prompting parents to hand their children over to "unscrupulous" individuals to smuggle them over the border. Yet he lamented that domestic political concerns were preventing the leaders of those nations, who came to the White House last month to discuss the crisis, from taking the types of steps that Colombia has taken to curb narcotics and corruption under a U.S. assistance program known as Plan Colombia.
"Central American governments aren't even close to being prepared to make some of the decisions the Colombians made, because they're hard," Biden said. "But the president and I are prepared."