Ashcroft Lets Thai Lad Stay-for the Present

In a case reminiscent of the Elian Gonzalez affair, where a Cuban boy was finally deported after family members lost their fight to keep him in this country, temporary U.S. residency status has been accorded to a 4-year-old Thai boy. Phanupong Khaisri, known as Got-who was apparently used to conceal a human smuggling operation-came to the attention of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who granted temporary immunity from deportation on humanitarian grounds in late July.

"Like so many victims of human trafficking, Got is a confused and isolated figure adrift in a complex legal system," Ashcroft said at a Los Angeles news conference. The attorney general also ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to process the boy's application for a visa under a new law passed by Congress last year to aid people caught up in human trafficking.

Ashcroft said the boy's father is dead and his mother-a convicted prostitute who was said to have "rented" him to traffickers-has given up her parental rights.

Got's grandparents in Thailand have legal custody, but members of the Thai community in Los Angeles argue that the grandparents are unsuitable guardians because they are drug traffickers.

Whether Got-who has been diagnosed with HIV-will ultimately be able to remain in the U.S. remains unclear. Meanwhile, two members of the Los Angeles-based Thai Community Develop-ment Center have been appointed his guardians. Dorothea Kraeger, attorney for the grandparents, called the attorney general's ruling a setback. But she said the Thai couple would continue their legal fight to bring the boy home.

Peter Schey, the boy's attorney, said he planned to file a class-action lawsuit to force the INS to ensure proper legal representation and minimal detention for the more than 4,000 unaccompanied minors taken into custody each year.