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Tanzanian Scouts Try to Avoid Deportation

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From the Washington Post

Attorneys for four Tanzanian teenagers who left an international gathering of Boy Scouts last month in Virginia have asked a judge to block deportation proceedings against the Scouts, arguing that the boys are in this country legally.

Lawyers said that because the youths, ages 15 to 17, have tourist visas that don’t expire until January, they should not be subjected to detention and a hearing before an administrative law judge, which is reserved for illegal immigrants who have broken the law. Instead, the lawyers said the teenagers should be granted an interview with an Immigration and Naturalization Service officer, placed in foster care and allowed a more exhaustive review of their case.

“We think the best thing for the boys is for both parties to sit and negotiate their immediate future,” said Steven Schulman, a lawyer representing the boys. “We don’t think this should be drawn out in court.” A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.

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The boys left the Boy Scout Jamboree at Ft. A.P. Hill on July 29. They were found 80 miles away in Washington the next day after hitchhiking, walking and sleeping alongside the road on the trip.

When interviewed by INS officials, the boys said they were hoping to continue their education in the United States, according to the Tanzanian ambassador to the U.S.

The Scouts’ attorneys said they would not say whether the boys had planned to leave the Jamboree before they arrived at the campsite but did say that they have a “legitimate fear of going home.”

“They have expressed a concern about what might happen to them if they return,” said Andrew Morton, a lawyer working with the boys.

Officials for the Tanzanian Embassy, who asked that the boys be returned to their Scoutmaster in early August, said the boys have nothing to fear from the government at home. The trip to the Jamboree was state-sponsored, paid for partly by the families and the government.

“I know the actions of the children have caused their parents great stress,” Tanzanian Ambassador Mustafa Salim Nyang’anyi said. “If the boys have a fear, it’s of their parents, not the government.”

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Last week, attorneys for the boys asked an INS judge during a short hearing in Pennsylvania to block an order that would begin their deportation. The INS will have until Sept. 20 to reply to the request.

INS officials did not return calls seeking their comment.

Schulman argued that because the boys had valid visas, they were entitled to an interview in which they would be asked questions about conditions at home and the reason for their request to stay in the United States. Instead, they are being treated as if they had broken the law, Schulman said.

The youths--one 15, one 16 and two 17--were among nine Tanzanian teenagers who joined 32,000 Boy Scouts from 23 countries at the 10-day National Scout Jamboree in Bowling Green, Va., which ended Aug. 1.

After the four were found in Washington, INS officials moved them on Aug. 3 from a detention center in Alexandria, Va., to a facility in Berks County, Pa., about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Since then, they have been going to school and participating in athletics with other teenagers.

Lawyers also have asked the INS to transfer the Scouts to a foster home, which would likely be in Richmond, Va., where the boys could stay with a Swahili-speaking family. The boys have not officially requested asylum yet.

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