After six weeks in a Texas immigration jail, a nine-year-old Canadian citizen and his Iranian parents were released and allowed back into Canada last night. Canadian immigration authorities have granted the boy’s parents temporary residency. We speak with their attorney. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: One month ago, Democracy Now! first covered the case of a nine-year-old Canadian boy held in a U.S. immigration jail along with his Iranian-born parents. Kevin Yourdkhani, his father Majid and his mother Masomeh had been on their way to seek asylum in Canada, when their plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Puerto Rico. U.S. officials took them into custody and sent them to the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. Kevin was one of an estimated 200 immigrant children being held there. He spoke to us from the jail in what was his first broadcast interview.
KEVIN YOURDKHANI: I want to be free. I want to go outside, and I want to go to school. I want to be in my homeland: Canada.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today, after six weeks in the Texas immigration jail, Kevin and his parents are back in Canada. They arrived in Toronto last night. Canadian immigration authorities have granted Kevin’s parents temporary residency. For more on this story, we go to Toronto, and we’re joined on the phone by the family’s attorney, Andrew Brouwer. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Andrew.
ANDREW BROUWER: Thanks very much.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us what happened.
ANDREW BROUWER: Well, they arrived last night. After an awful lot of campaigning and a lot of publicity about the case, the Canadian government finally agreed to issue permanent — or temporary residence visas to the family. And then, that took another week and a half, I guess, for the two countries to figure out exactly how to process it and for the Americans to finally release them and put them on a plane to Toronto.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to them now in Toronto?
ANDREW BROUWER: Well, Kevin, of course, is a Canadian citizen, so he has a right to stay here for his life. The issue is being able to live here with his parents. So we’ve got two immigration processes that we can follow: One is a humanitarian and compassionate request for permanent status, which would be based in large part on the fact that Kevin is a Canadian and he should be allowed to be with his parents; and the other is called a pre-removal risk assessment, which is really a sort of a paper asylum claim. Unfortunately, that paper asylum claim has a 97 percent rejection rate, so the chances of success generally on that are not great. But on the other hand, this is a family who has suffered terribly and very serious human rights abuses in Iran, not to mention the States, so at this point I think they do have a strong case.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Did you ever get from U.S. immigration officials an explanation of why they took them, even though they weren’t even coming into the United States?
ANDREW BROUWER: No, I am still hoping that this is something that we can clear up, because it was clearly inappropriate for this family to be detained in the United States, particularly a child — I mean, any child. But for a Canadian child who was en route back home to be picked up and detained and kept for six weeks in a U.S. jail is clearly offensive, and I think many Canadians have been outraged by this treatment.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a peace in the Canadian press, headlined "Canadian Boy and Iranian Parents Arrive in Toronto After Release from Texas Jail." And it says that just as they were leaving Houston, they said Iranian security police came onto the plane and escorted them into a room — this is when they were deported back to Iran, where after a while Kevin was released to the care of his grandmother. So, when they were deported from Canada to Iran, both parents were detained — is this right, Andrew? And when they got out, they escaped and then tried to head back to Canada through Turkey?
ANDREW BROUWER: Yeah, that’s right. They were detained on arrival at the airport in Iran. Both parents were detained and tortured — Masomeh for about a month, and Majid for six months — where they were both brutally treated. And that’s why they eventually decided they had to try again to get out and make a new refugee claim back in Canada.
AMY GOODMAN: How much attention is this getting in Canada? We commented last time, in this country this story has almost gotten no attention, and yet it is headlines in the newspapers and top story in the Canadian press. How much difference does that make?
ANDREW BROUWER: That’s had a huge impact. I mean, there have been a number of factors, but certainly Kevin, the interview he did with you folks, as well as another one that he did on Canadian radio, and a letter that he wrote with colored markers to the prime minister of Canada saying, "I’m a Canadian. Please let me come back and let me go to school. I don’t like it in this jail." That was published on the front page of one of Canada’s national newspapers, and I think all of that and the other media attention has had a massive impact on pressuring the Canadian government to bring this family back.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the role of Ralph Eisenberg? A piece says Ralph Eisenberg never met the nine-year-old Canadian boy he helped to spring from a Texas immigration jail, but the fate of Kevin Yourdkhani, who finally headed to Toronto yesterday with his Iranian parents, is still very personal for Eisenberg, a wealthy Dallas property manager. He said, "I am so happy. I pray to God that Canadians welcome that family home." Now, it’s onto the next family.
ANDREW BROUWER: Yeah, he’s an amazing guy. Really, out of nowhere, at least from my perspective. We found out that he was there. He was willing to do anything he could to bring this family home. He offered to pay their tickets, their flights back to Canada. He covered their about a thousand U.S. dollars in immigration fees that the Canadian government levied for the family to come back. All of it. He was there, and I was talking to him daily, and he kept reiterating, "Tell me what I can do, tell me what I can do." It’s pretty amazing.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the stories — again, in Canada — on him quote him as saying that the U.S. Immigration Control and Enforcement is out of control. "They need to be put out of business. You can’t allow a law enforcement agency to have such power over all these foreign nationals. ICE, in itself, is creating terrorists of the future by jailing kids, nine, 10 or 15 years old." And amazingly, this is a Dallas businessman, but the news is being reported in Canada, not in the United States.
ANDREW BROUWER: Yeah, that’s really interesting. You know, I don’t know a lot about what’s going on in the States, but certainly from reports that I’ve read, it does sound like the use of detention is unbelievably widespread in the U.S. for asylum seekers and other people without status. And, you know, the simple fact that there are around 200 kids at this T. Don Hutto Detention Center in this States is completely astounding, and I think that a lot of Canadians reading the coverage of Kevin’s case have been a little bit more educated about just what’s going on down there.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Andrew Brouwer, I want to thank you very much for joining us from Toronto, attorney for Kevin and his parents, who have now just arrived in Toronto. There are about 200 children at the detention facility in Taylor, Texas. The ACLU has brought suit on their behalf. This story began when the family was brought down in Puerto Rico because a passenger had a heart attack, and so the plane landed there, instead of going straight onto Canada.