- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Four Boy Scouts from Tanzania seeking asylum in the United States will plead their case to a judge next month but remain in the custody of immigration officials, a situation that has irritated the youths' attorney and caused frustration back home.
The indefinite detainment of the boys is standard procedure for processing juveniles who enter the country on a tourist visa without parents or legal guardians and then express a desire to stay, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials say.
"The key factor here is that these boys are unaccompanied juveniles," Lance Payne, an INS spokesman in Philadelphia, said Wednesday.
"Our first choice is to release them to family members, but in this case, it doesn't appear any are here," Mr. Payne said. "We can't just release them to the streets."
The Tanzanian youths — one 15, one 16 and two 17 — were among nine Boy Scouts who traveled from their East African homeland to attend the 10-day National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Va., which ended Aug. 1. They have told authorities they sneaked away July 29 in search of a better life in America, and they wound up in the District the next day.
The four boys are afraid of the consequences of returning home because the Tanzanian government sponsored their trip, said Andrew Morton, a D.C. lawyer whose firm took their case on a pro-bono basis.
"The government would feel humiliated that they used it as an opportunity to express a desire not to return," Mr. Morton said in an interview with The Washington Times yesterday after meeting with the youths for the second time.
"They have been told directly in phone calls home that the news is out, everybody from the media to the president of the country is aware of their story and they would face arrest for going back home."
Mr. Morton argues that the boys should be placed in foster homes in the Washington area pending resolution of their case. He said they will appear before an immigration judge for an initial hearing in mid-September.
"It's hard for me to speculate that the parents are supporters of the actions of their children," Tanzanian Ambassador Mustafa Salim Nyang'anyi said yesterday, when asked how the families view the developments. "If [the boys] have a fear, it's of their parents, not the government. I can understand that fear, because they've caused an embarrassment to their parents."
INS officials moved the youths Aug. 3 from an undisclosed location in Northern Virginia to a "camplike" facility in Berks County, Pa., about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
The agency operates many such holding facilities throughout the United States for the "protection of juveniles," said Karen Kraushaar, INS spokeswoman for detention and removal.
Any child in INS custody who expresses a fear of returning home is held until his or her case is resolved, she said.
The boys are from Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam, which became the focus of a U.S. government investigation three years ago Wednesday after a bomb exploded at the American Embassy there, killing 11.
The nation of 35 million is one of the poorer countries on the African continent. The region's AIDS epidemic has taken a high death toll, U.S. officials say.
The Tanzanian government last week assured the youths' parents that their sons were "in safe hands," Mr. Nyang'anyi said. The ambassador described their families as "hard-working" and relatively wealthy.
Mr. Nyang'anyi last week asked the State Department to intercede and return the boys to their scoutmaster, who since has gone home. Instead, INS moved them to Pennsylvania.
Mr. Morton said the four Boy Scouts have become "poster children" for what's wrong with INS policy on processing unaccompanied juveniles from other nations.
"These are four boys that have a valid tourist visa and they find themselves behind bars," the lawyer said.
Mr. Morton and some children's rights advocates argue that the Tanzanian Scouts' case illustrates a conflict of interest at the INS that has brewed for several years.
"On one hand, [the INS] is caring for these children; on the other hand, it may be deporting them," said Jo Becker, spokeswoman for New York-based Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights advocacy group in the United States.
The INS detains as many as 4,800 unaccompanied juveniles a year, Mr. Morton said.
"About 2,000 of those detained don't have any legal guardians in this country," Mr. Morton said. "Those are the ones that raise the issue of conflict of interest."
His law firm, Latham and Watkins, took the case late last week as part of its support for a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, that would restructure how the INS processes foreign youths who seek asylum here without parents or guardians.
The bill, originally cosponsored by Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, would create an Office of Children's Services within the Justice Department to ensure federal authorities recognize special needs and circumstances in such cases.
"The main object of the bill is to alleviate the INS conflict of interest by separating the agency's care-and-custody function from the law-enforcement function," Mr. Morton said.

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