SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — The lightning-rod issue of immigration reform has been put back into the spotlight by the surge of children from Latin American countries streaming into the U.S., looking for a better life. Many, however, say that they are not our problem and should be immediately deported back to their countries of origin.

In Depth co-hosts Jane McMillan and Ed Cavagnaro spoke with Federal San Francisco immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, who also serves as President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, and she says that because of both American domestic law and international treaties that U.S. has signed, we have an obligation to take action.

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“Any child, or any individual, from any country in the world who says, ‘I am afraid of returning home’ has a right to have an asylum process begin,” Marks said.

Marks points out that the gang wars and violence in the home countries of these children may indeed meet the criteria for granting their asylum here. But that means more judges are needed to hear these cases that have been added to a system that is already sorely backlogged by several years.

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“If we had been ready for this by being fully staffed in our regular caseload and more current in our regular caseload, it would not cause the tremendous disruption to our system which is occurring now as we take resources away from our everyday work to address this surge,” she said.

Judge Marks said that Justice Department needs to fully fund and staff the immigration courts, and that Congress needs to finally address immigration policy. The current surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America, she says, will be neither a quick nor simple procedure.

“Judges need to be able to hear these cases, particularly the cases of the juveniles,” she said. “They are especially vulnerable population and it’s consistent with U.S. law that someone has to understand that proceedings that they are involved in. We have to explain their rights and their responsibilities and it’s much more challenging to do that to a minor, particularly to one that is unrepresented who may have traumatized by a horrific journey to the United Sates,” she said

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