A toddler from Thailand who arrived in Los Angeles without family will be examined by a doctor this morning in preparation for his return to Bangkok in as soon as a few days, activists who met with the Immigration and Naturalization Service said Wednesday.
The 2-year-old arrived in Los Angeles on April 11 under a false name with a man and woman pretending to be his parents. Officials believe the boy was a pawn in an international ring smuggling Thai women into the United States for prostitution. The couple have been deported.
Officials in Thailand's Social Welfare Ministry have located the boy's grandparents in Thailand and have confirmed the identity of the boy's 22-year-old mother, according to officials with the city's Thai Consulate.
The agency is investigating the three to determine if they can provide suitable care for the child, Thai officials said.
If he is not reunited with his family, he probably will be sent to a government-owned orphanage until he is adopted, said Nuttavudh Photisaro, deputy consul general for the Thai Consulate.
"It depends on the decision of the court in Bangkok," he said. "Most important, we want to make sure the kid is not used again."
The child is named Phanupong and answers to the nickname Got. (Thai activists asked that his surname be withheld to protect his privacy.)
It is very unusual for a child so young to be stranded in another country, according to Hae Jung Cho, project coordinator for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
Got was scheduled to be flown back to Bangkok today, but that trip has been postponed for "a few days or until next week," said Cho, whose agency is helping to coordinate his care. Cho attended the meeting with INS officials and Got's caretakers.
Officials with the INS, who are technically Got's custodians, issued a statement Wednesday saying they would "temporarily delay his return to Thailand."
"INS is extremely concerned about the well-being of the boy, and this delay provides the Thai government additional time to make appropriate arrangements for the child's return to Thailand," the statement said.
Calling the case sensitive, INS spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the INS' "primary concern is the welfare of this child, and part of that is trying to respect [his] privacy."
Got's story is big news in Thailand, Photisaro said. "The boy gets a lot of attention now," he told Thai activists. "You don't have to worry that he'll go back to the same abuse again."
The meeting came amid heightened tension among all parties involved in Got's case:
Thai activists have feared that INS officials may seize the boy, much as they did with 9-year-old Elian Gonzalez in Miami last month.
INS officials apparently were concerned Wednesday--after being unable Monday and Tuesday to reach the social worker caring for the child--that his caretakers would not turn him over to government officials when the time came.
Got appeared to be in good spirits Wednesday, alternately resting peacefully in the arms of his caretaker and playing with her. During the INS meeting, he played with the shoes beneath the table, officials said.
But he wakes repeatedly each night screaming with nightmares, Cho said. "His behavior is consistent with a child who has undergone severe trauma."
When he returns to Thailand, he is expected to fly alone--under the supervision of a stewardess--on Thai Airways, said Piyawat Niyom-rerks, Thai consul general.