Ashcroft Orders INS to Allow HIV-Positive Thai Boy to Remain in U.S.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to issue a new T-visa that would allow a 4-year-old HIV-positive Thai boy brought into the country as a "decoy" in a prostitution smuggling ring to stay indefinitely in the United States, the New York Times reports. Ashcroft granted "humanitarian parole" to Phanupong Khaisri, known as "Got," under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, for which regulations have not yet been released. Got entered the United States on April 20, 2000, through Los Angeles International Airport, where inspectors discovered the couple he was traveling with were not his parents, but smugglers attempting to bring the woman into the country to work as a prostitute. Got's mother, a convicted Thai prostitute, had "rented" him to the smugglers for the trip. After Got entered the country, he became ill with an ear infection and chicken pox and was diagnosed with HIV. "Stories like Got's can't help but move us. They appeal not just to our principles as a nation but to our compassion as a people," Ashcroft said when announcing the visa (New York Times, 7/24).
An Uncertain Future
The visa announcement does not grant Got permanent residence, but it makes it "unlikely" that he will be deported, a move the INS has "steadfastly pushed for," the Washington Post reports. "There is a process the application has to go through, but I think we can assume he will be approved. This ends the discussion: He's not going home," an INS official said. The Thai government and the child's paternal grandparents have lobbied for his return and the INS has backed their claims, saying that "family wishes should be honored in all but the most extreme cases." However, Ashcroft said yesterday that this case warrants such a move because of the boy's health and family situation, which human rights groups have deemed "unfit" because his mother has relinquished all parental rights, his father is dead and the grandmother seeking custody is a convicted drug trafficker (Eggen, Washington Post, 7/24). Piyawat Niyomrerks, the Thai consul general in Los Angeles, said his government was "quite surprised and saddened" by Ashcroft's statement because Got "is not helpless. He has blood relatives to take care of him" (New York Times, 7/24). U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian "repeatedly" blocked Got's deportation, saying it would be equivalent to "giving the kid a death sentence." He ruled last month that the boy be allowed to remain in the country until he is 18 and can make a decision for himself (Washington Post, 7/24). Peter Schey, the attorney representing the boy, said Ashcroft's order has "in essence" put Got in a "temporary holding position." He plans to file a class-action lawsuit "[w]ithin days" to "force" the INS to "ensure proper legal representation and minimal detention" for the more than 4,000 unaccompanied minors it takes into custody every year (McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, 7/24). Dorothea Kraeger, the attorney representing the grandparents, said her clients have "not given up hope" and "still intend to go forward to the court," adding that Ashcroft's announcement was not a "final decision in this case" (Washington Post, 7/24). The visa does "nothing more than keep the judge's order in place," she said, calling Ashcroft's term "humanitarian parole" a "fiction" that "allows someone to be here with no immigration status." Although she acknowledged that the grandmother was convicted of heroin trafficking in the 1970s and served 12 years in prison, she said her clients live an "upper-middle-class life" and "successfully" raised three other children. Chanchanit Martorell, Got's co-guardian and executive director of the Thai Community Development Center that has advocated for the boy, said she was "overjoyed" by Ashcroft's announcement, adding that it would give the boy a "chance for a better life" (New York Times, 7/24). The child is on a three-drug antiretroviral regimen, which must be taken every 12 hours and his health has improved. A couple from Silver Lake, Calif., is seeking to adopt Got (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/24).