The new president of the leading immigration lawyers group in the United States says that feasibility and national security must be balanced with compassion when deciding whom to allow to live and work in the United States.
Victor Nieblas, the new president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, told Fox News Latino that as the United States grapples with national security threats and people seeking protection and new lives here, this nation must be guided by its tradition of welcoming the displaced.
In a new report card by AILA on how President Barack Obama has handled different aspects of immigration, the organization concluded that he has a mixed performance.
AILA gave the president an F – yes, for failure – on refugee and humanitarian protection because of what it considered the inadequate response the Obama administration gave to people from Central American who fled to the U.S. border, seeking refuge from the violence and drug cartels that threatened their lives back home.
“The president should have protected them,” said the report, released Wednesday. “Instead, the Obama administration treated these refugees as a border threat, detaining thousands and putting them on a fast track for deportation….As a result it has undermined America’s global reputation as a humanitarian leader.”
The handling of the surge from Central America raises concern in AILA, as well as among other advocates of more flexible immigration policies, to how the United States will handle Syrian refugees.
Since the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday, the attitude in many countries, and among many members of Congress and governors in the United States, has turned to one of fear that Syrians seeking refuge in the Unites States may include Islamic State terrorists who try to hide among them.
Several dozen governors have said they will fight against the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states, citing little to no confidence in the current ability to vet them to ensure they are not national security threats.
Obama, by contrast, has pressed for having an open mind about the Syrian refugees and has assailed the lawmakers who are raising alarms against them and calling for them to be kept out of U.S. borders.
Niebles says he would have liked to see that kind of sympathy and advocacy on behalf of the Central American immigrants from Obama.
“The administration has been detaining women and children who are entering from Central American,” said Nieblas, the first Mexican-American attorney to helm AILA since it was established nearly 70 years ago. “He has been detaining them despite them seeking asylum and wanting protection from this country, instead of giving them refugee status like he’s giving Syrians.”
“He detains the mothers and the children,” Nieblas said. “These women and children are being impacted emotionally, psychologically.”
They’ve been shortchanged, he said, of all they sought – “an opportunity to represent their asylum claims. We’ve failed them in that area.”
He does give Obama credit, however, for making an effort – through controversial executive actions — to give reprieve from deportation to some undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria.
“He’s been working with Congress for six or seven years, and Congress really hasn’t wanted to participate in the immigration reform debate,” he said.
“We know those [executive actions] are stuck in the courts,” Nieblas said. “He did try his best. Congress does not want to cooperate with him. But he wanted to do the right thing.”
As for the Syrian refugees, Nieblas says it is possible to have a viable screening process and to keep the compassionate history the United States has had of taking in people seeking freedom and a better life.
He said it’s important “to understand what the process is.”
“These refugees will go through levels of security checks, one after the other after the other," Nieblas said. "It takes months, sometimes years. They go through many interviews, also security checks, whether it be the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Desk. This is a process that has existed a very long time.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.