News/US: Thai community seeks hold on deportation of toddler used in illegal entry scheme

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Subject: News/US: Thai community seeks hold on deportation of toddler used in illegal entry scheme
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed May 10 2000 - 08:57:22 EDT


Thai community seeks hold on deportation of toddler used in illegal entry
scheme
By Robert Jablon
May 4, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thai community leaders are hoping to halt Thursday's
planned deportation of a 2-year-old boy who was used as a "human prop" by
illegal immigrants.

The boy, identified by Thai officials as Phanupong Khaisri, flew into Los
Angeles under a false name on April 11 with a man and woman who pretended
to be his parents.

"We found out that the passports were fraudulent. They weren't the kid's
parents at all ... nor the guardians nor the caretakers," said Leonard
Kovensky, assistant director of detention and deportation for the Los
Angeles district of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"I think they were using the kid as a decoy ... to try to present a face
that they were coming here as tourists," Kovensky said Tuesday.

The INS asked the U.S. attorney's office to file charges against the couple
but the case was rejected, said INS spokesman Rico Cabrera.

The man and woman were deported but the boy, who turns 3 in June, remained
while the Thai consulate tried to determine his identity.

Contact was made with the boy's real mother, who faxed documents and a
photograph. The woman said she thought the boy was sightseeing with
friends, according to a Thai official who declined to give his name.

The boy was scheduled to be flown to Bangkok on Thursday, but "no final
decision has been made yet whether to proceed with the child's return,"
Cabrera said.

A local Thai group that is taking care of the toddler wants a delay for
investigation.

"We're concerned with the boy's welfare and we feel that his safety is in
question if he were to be returned," said Hae Jung Cho, project director of
the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. "If his mother is selling
him to these traffickers for him to be used in criminal activities, that's
just horrendous."

The group may consider seeking political asylum for the boy, Cho said.

The boy is staying with a staff member of the non-profit Thai Community
Development Center, a member of the anti-slavery coalition.

"The situation would have traumatized any child," Cho said. "When I saw him
at the INS office, he was really quiet and serious-looking, and he would go
to anybody who held out their arms," Cho said.

The first few nights at his temporary home, "he just cried all night. He
was terrified of the dark," Cho said.

A psychologist who examined the boy concluded he was "very anxious and
nervous and insecure," she said.

The Thai center is concerned that the boy may have been used as "a human
prop" by "a criminal group that is trafficking women, one by one, into this
country," according to an April 27 letter to Thomas J. Schiltgen, director
of the Los Angeles INS district.

According to the letter, one INS official stated her "understanding that
the child was given sleeping pills or other drugs to keep him quiet on
these trips from Thailand through Japan to the U.S."

Kovensky declined Tuesday to confirm or deny those allegations. However, he
said the center's concerns were being "taken seriously."

"We're all very concerned about the child and what happens to him.
Everything we do is in his best interest," Kovensky said.

The Thai official said that because the boy is a citizen, "our duty is to
bring the child back to Thailand," where child welfare and law enforcement
agents will investigate and determine whether he should remain with his
mother.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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