RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The fate of a Honduran woman and her 5-year-old son caught the attention of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey this week. The mother and boy were arrested after crossing into the U.S. illegally back in 2015. Several courts rejected her appeals to stay. And on Wednesday, they were deported back to Honduras.
Senator Casey took to Twitter, calling on President Trump and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to keep them from going back to a dangerous situation in their home country. NPR is honoring a request by the woman's attorneys not to use her name out of concern for her safety. I spoke with Senator Casey about how he sees the situation.
BOB CASEY: This never should have happened. These are two individuals that pose no threat to the American people in any way. This mom was fleeing because she witnessed a murder. And she was pursued by gangs. And that's why she came to this country.
Now, there's a whole other set of questions about her detention. And the lawyers on the child's behalf have petitioned a court to have a special status conferred upon him. And that - that's not resolved yet, so that's another reason to have at least the child stay here or have the mother and child stay here together.
MARTIN: At one point, you reached out directly via Twitter to the president asking him to get involved to keep this mother and her child from being deported. Did you hear back from the White House?
CASEY: Did not hear back, nor have I heard back from Secretary Kelly for whom I voted, by the way. I think he at least could respond to me.
MARTIN: Also, didn't - just to clarify, did Reince Priebus - I understand though did reply to one of your tweets and said that they were looking into it?
CASEY: Actually, Reince Priebus got on the phone. I give him credit for getting on the phone. And that's good. And I'm glad he did that. And he said he'd look into it. The administration can still help here. They can say you know what, this child has a special immigrant juvenile status determination. We're going to bring the child back for that reason. And the administration can make sure that the mom is safe.
MARTIN: This family - this mother and child - had been held in a detention center in your state...
MARTIN: ...Since 2015. Did you work or inquire on their behalf to the Obama administration?
CASEY: Absolutely. We've been on this - I didn't like the - what the Obama administration was doing with these families. And there were a lot of days when I kicked the hell out of that administration. So this isn't about one administration versus the other. This is about how we treat people that come into this country that pose no threat to the American people.
MARTIN: As you know, the primary defense of this harder line on immigration is that these are the laws that are on the books. This is what Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly talks about, that if you don't like these laws, get Congress to change them.
CASEY: Well, look. I think it's worthy of consideration to review current statutes in terms of how the law's implemented. All I'm asking is that they look at cases individually that involve a mother and a child, number one. Number two is let's take a look at how ICE and Homeland Security is prioritizing cases and have them focus on priority cases where you have violent felons on our streets that we should be justifiably concerned about.
MARTIN: Senator Bob Casey is a Democrat from the state of Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for your time, Senator.
CASEY: Thank you.
MARTIN: After we recorded that interview with Senator Casey, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly addressed this issue at an event here in Washington. Kelly said the acting director of ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - did speak directly with Senator Casey. And Kelly said he himself has tried to get in touch with the senator directly. As for the Honduran woman, Kelly said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN KELLY: This person exhausted all of the legal protections the process that the United States laws as passed by the United States Congress gave her. And we had a court order to remove her and we did. We can't obey - disobey the law.
MARTIN: Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
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