Our View: Don't extradite Venckiene without a hearing

Neringa Venckiene could be extradited to Lithuania any day now, without her case for asylum being heard.

This looks like a failure of the federal immigration system, and to an extent, of Illinois’ Congressional delegation.

Venckiene, 48, was a judge and member of parliament in her native country before she fled to the U.S. in 2013. She left after crusading against what she claimed was a pedophile ring involving Lithuanian government officials that had victimized her then-4-year-old niece. After people connected to the case were killed, Venckiene gained custody of the girl and refused to relinquish the child to her mother, who had not been the custodial parent before the killings.

(Pedophile rings are not without precedent in the Baltics. A pedophilia scandal involving government officials scandalized neighboring Latvia in 2000.)

Venckiene sought asylum and settled in Crystal Lake with her then-teenage son, Karolis Venckus, where she lived and worked as a florist until 2018, when federal authorities arrested her and began the process of extraditing her to Lithuania to face charges related to her refusal to give up custody of her niece.

She has been in federal custody in the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center for more than a year and has run out of appeals in her fight against extradition.

Meanwhile, a hearing on her asylum claim has been postponed until 2022, when it almost certainly will be moot.

Venckiene claims she has reason to fear for her safety if she is extradited – she made damaging claims against the courts and government officials there, three people connected with the story already have been killed and her niece’s whereabouts are unknown to her.

We are not experts on Lithuanian politics. However, we question why Venckiene will be extradited without at least having her petition for asylum heard, and why neither Sens. Dick Durbin or Tammy Duckworth, nor Reps. Lauren Underwood or Sean Casten, have spoken out or appear to have intervened. There has been extensive media coverage of this case in the Northwest Herald, The Associated Press and other media outlets.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has the authority to stay Venckiene’s extradition. The case could be made that the motives for seeking her extradition are political, and that she could meet her end back in Lithuania.

As the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals noted in a July decision not to stay Venckiene's extradition, Pompeo "is authorized to consider factors that United States federal courts in extradition cases cannot take into account. The executive branch has sole authority to consider issues like the political motivations of a requesting country and whether humanitarian concerns justify denying a request."

Venckiene was among the elite in her country before she chose to make her stand.

Her extradition should be forestalled at least until an immigration court has time to consider her petition for asylum.

Venckiene’s case deserves a fair hearing.