Sen. Bob Casey Spent His Day Trying To Prevent A 5-Year-Old Undocumented Immigrant From Being Deported

And he's still looking for him.

While most of America was following developments on a bill to repeal Obamacare Wednesday, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey was trying to find a little boy.

Casey, who first asked for help on Twitter just after noon Wednesday, said he was looking for a young boy and his mother who were being deported to Honduras. He began by sending an open plea for help to his followers and then tweeting at President Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security seeking answers.

The boy and the mother that Casey was searching for came to the United States seeking asylum. After witnessing her cousin's murder by a gang in Honduras, the mother fled north, taking her son with her. According to Casey, the child could be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a program that helps get green cards for children who have been neglected. The mother had no criminal record.

Casey, who said he and his team helped construct the tweets throughout the day, said despite their clean record, the boy and his mother were rushed through a deportation process and sent back to Honduras even as Casey tried to track them down.

"The last couple of days — 24 hours now — to say they've been frustrating would be an understatement," Casey told A Plus in a conference call with reporters. "The Department of Homeland Security has an obligation to keep our country safe, in addition to other agencies in the federal government, but it seems like the focus has been on a 5-year-old and his mother, instead of using every resource and ounce of focus on folks that pose a real threat and danger to the country."

The family was held at the Berks Residential Center in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson for Casey said, before being rushed onto a plane and sent back to Honduras. Casey spoke to Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and acting Director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan over the phone, all in an effort to stop the deportation. He also sent letters to each of them as a follow-up.

But his efforts produced little in the form of results.

"We didn't agree much and we stated our disagreements, but we didn't raise our voices," Senator Casey said about his call with Secretary Kelly. "I asked for his commitment that he would consider it [my letter] and respond expeditiously, and he agreed to do that."

Dating back to President Obama's administration, Casey has been an outspoken critic of how families in Berks County, Pennsylvania were being treated at detention centers. But he's also voted to fund fencing along the southern border, for more border surveillance and more border agents. As far as Democrats go, his immigration stances are pretty conservative.

Casey gives a speech during former president Obama's visit to Western Pennsylvania in 2013.

Now, though, his concern is even broader. Between January and March, the number of arrests for immigrants with no criminal records has more than doubled to 5,441 compared to the same period of time just a year ago, according to The Washington Post. And Casey says many of those people, just like this family, have no criminal record.

One of his top priorities, he said, is fixing the entire process for asylum seekers. Casey is now pushing to allow families to go on the record for the reason they fled their home country the moment the asylum process starts. Casey emphasized that many families either never get this opportunity or have to do it under duress. Some, he said, may not want to tell the story of violence from their home country in front of their kids. Then, later in the process, since their reason for seeking asylum was never formalized, many are deported without a proper hearing or judicial oversight.

"We need an asylum process where the people asking the questions are highly trained to elicit that kind of information," Casey said. "I'm going to look at the law and see if we can't make changes there."

He's also encouraging discretion from the Trump administration.  He characterized the officials he spoke to on the phone as "throwing their hands up" and said they indicated there wasn't much they could do — despite likely being able to help.

"They have plenty of discretion to make determinations about the timing of deportation, the circumstances, the human reality of a 5-year-old and their mother being put on a plane," Casey said.

Since reaching out to the administration and asking for help on Twitter, Casey said he has lost track of the family. He doesn't know when they boarded the plane or where they are now, though based on the limited information he got from DHS, he suspects they are already on the ground in Honduras, potentially in harm's way. 

While he didn't accuse the DHS or ICE of expediting the process in the wake of his tweets, he admitted he "had some suspicions" as to why Kelly and Homan took many hours to return his phone calls. But most of all, Casey is just hoping to see the administration refocus on people who pose more of a threat to American citizens.

"I don't see how that's enhancing homeland security and I think it's contrary to our values to be focusing on people with no criminal records who in this case happen to be a mom and her five-year-old," Casey said. "I don't want this family to be forgotten just because our government deported them."

Shutterstock / George Sheldon

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