Serious Concerns About Lack of Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers

Child from HondurasU.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide  pro bono representation.

Access to counsel can be the difference between life and death for asylum seekers in the United States. Asylum seekers who have lawyers are more than three times as likely to be granted asylum as those who do not.  Having an attorney is “the single most important factor” affecting the outcome of the case. Yet individuals in immigration detention face the biggest challenge in obtaining legal representation.  The American Bar Association estimates that a whopping 84% of immigration detainees nationwide were unrepresented in their removal proceedings.

At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture.  Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:

As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.

Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.

For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.

Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.

Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.

The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:

  • the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;

  • the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and

  • the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.

See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:

In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy, and Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt

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Good Question

Child from HondurasWill the United States step up and be a moral leader for the refugees fleeing Central America?

Sonia Nazario, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and The Advocates’ 2015 Human Rights Award recipient, asks this question in her news report on how the United States, according to Nazario, “has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe” (The New York Times, October 10, 2015). The outsourcing includes “payments” of tens of millions of dollars from the United States to Mexico to stop Central American migrants from reaching the United States/Mexico border to claim asylum.

Nazario writes:

The crackdown has forced migrants to travel in ways that are harder, take longer, are more isolated and have fewer support mechanisms. New measures have made riding on top of freight trains north, a preferred method for anyone who cannot afford a $10,000 smuggler fee, incredibly difficult. In Tierra Blanca, Veracruz and elsewhere, tall concrete walls topped with concertina wire have been constructed to thwart migrants. In Apizaco, the Lechería train station outside Mexico City and elsewhere, chest-high concrete pillars, or rocks, have been installed on both sides of the tracks so migrants cannot run alongside moving trains and board them.

Read “The Refugees at Our Door,” by Sonia Nazario.


For those Central American families who make it into the United States, The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal services to help them seek asylum. For migrants who are not located in the Midwest, The Advocates helps them, too, with its Asylum Helpline that connects families released from U.S. immigration detention centers across the nation with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Helpline at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Stock Photo woman behind fenceMaria de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was deported when the immigration agent who interviewed her assumed she was not born in the United States because she couldn’t speak to him in English. Eventually, the U.S. government recognized her citizenship and issued her a passport, but only after her attorney filed a habeas petition on her behalf.

Then there is Nydia R., a transgender woman from Mexico. Despite having been granted asylum by the United States, she was twice unlawfully deported to danger. “I didn’t know the immigration agents could have helped me,” Nydia said, recalling her treatment at the U.S. border after being raped and attacked by gangs. “They had known all the reasons I was trying to come back to the U.S. and even knowing them, they sent me back.” Deported to Mexico, Nydia was kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade.

These are just two people’s stories which are revealed in a comprehensive study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of expedited deportations ordered by federal immigration agents instead of judges. The ACLA found numerous incidents of people with rights or strong claims to be in the United States who were deported without the chance to be heard.

The Advocates for Human Rights highlighted concerns about the increasing reliance upon summary deportation procedures in its most recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will examine the U.S human rights record at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review in May 2015:

The Advocates also raised this concern in its 2014 report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. The Advocates identified these summary proceedings and other streamlined deportation efforts that have created conditions for constitutional violations with no effective remedy.

The ACLU’s investigative report titled “American Exile: Rapid Deportations That Bypass the Courtroom” is based on more than 130 cases of individuals who were deported, sometimes in a matter of hours, without the most basic due process protections — including a hearing before a judge and the chance to defend their claims. These deportations are ordered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency embroiled in controversy that has been widely criticized for lacking oversight and accountability.

“Under the current system, thousands of people are subject to the whim and mercy of immigration officers who are acting as prosecutor, judge and deporter,” said Sarah Mehta, researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and author of the report. “These officers are not equipped with the legal knowledge and expertise to decide who has rights or valid claims to enter and live in the United States.”

There are more than 40,000 CBP officers authorized to issue these deportation orders with no lawyers or evidence required and no independent review as mandated by human rights law.

“If fairness and justice matter, our government has to allow people with claims and rights to be in the United States a real opportunity to defend those rights,” said Mehta. “Our government has separated families and deported people to their death when we failed to give them the most basic opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves. We must do better — both for those facing deportation and the families left behind.”

According to the report findings, in 2013 the United States conducted 438,421 deportations. In more than 363,279 of those deportations — over 83 percent — there was no hearing or review by a judge before the person was removed. These deportation orders come with the same significant penalties as deportation orders issued by a judge after a full hearing. An immigration officer can order someone deported and banned from the United States anywhere from five years to a lifetime. If an officer makes a mistake and deports some with a right or valid claim to remain in the United States there is virtually no way for that person to rescind the deportation order.

Prior to 1996, the vast majority of people facing deportations from this country had immigration court hearings. Now most do not, opening the way for errors or outright abuse.

In addition to information from interviews with deportees, their families, lawyers and community advocates, “American Exile” includes recommendations to the federal government that are even more important in light of President Obama’s recent executive action announcement, which included both deferrals of deportations and new DHS-wide prosecutorial discretion guidance. For example, there are recommendations to immigration enforcement agencies on screening for individuals who qualify for relief and to ensure that people unlawfully deported have the chance to fix those errors.

Last Friday, a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concerns over “the expansion of expedited removal procedures, which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and other persons in need of international protection.”

The committee’s “concluding observations” also expressed concerns over CBP personnel failing to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an asylum-screening interview and recommended to the United States to “review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to counsel.”

Read the full report, executive summary, and more.
Access Spanish-language versions.

This blog post is based on a news release received by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Advocacy, contributed to the post.

 

 

Don’t Put Mothers and Their Children in Prison

Today’sDon't put kids in prison Twitter feed is abuzz with the news that the White House intends to announce administrative action for some of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented Americans. While the contours of the relief remain unclear, President Obama’s action undoubtedly moves the immigration reform debate to a new place and promises to make real – at least in a limited way for the very near future – the right to family unity guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at articles 17 and 23.

But as the administration moves to keep families together with one hand, the other hand is doubling down on the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum.

The United States is required to uphold the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, but earlier this year the Obama administration began using immigration detention to deter asylum seekers in a misguided and draconian approach to people fleeing persecution. Although President Obama has framed the arrival of asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as a humanitarian crisis, the approach taken by the administration has been anything but humanitarian.

But just days before the planned announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year.

“The Administration is playing more games with the lives of women and children fleeing violence. This time it’s a shell game moving people from one jail to another without regard for their well-being or human rights,” said Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

There’s a dire need for the president to take administrative action on immigration. The first step should be ending the detention of families in the United States.

In a call for action, The Advocates for Human Rights, along with a host of other organizations, signed the following letter to President Obama, urging him to address the detention and expedited deportation of children and their mothers fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

November 18, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, children’s rights, and domestic violence advocacy organizations, are gravely concerned about your administration’s massive expansion of detention for young children and their mothers who are fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though many of these children and their mothers qualify for asylum protection under U.S. law, they are being deported so rapidly as to deny them a fair opportunity to seek protection.

As you consider taking executive action to reform the immigration system, we urge you to address the fundamental problems with the detention and expedited deportation of these children and their mothers. Indeed, executive action can wait no longer. Delay has only meant more broken families, more workers stuck in the shadows, and more businesses that are stymied by the broken system. We urge you to act immediately to do what is within your legal authority to fix the immigration system and take bold and inclusive action to make our enforcement system more humane.

We applaud your goal of protecting immigrant families whose lives are interwoven into the fabric of American communities. For that same reason, we call upon you to stop detaining these vulnerable children and mothers who are fleeing violence in Central America and hoping to join with relatives already living in the United States. In 2009, abuse and mistreatment at a Texas facility compelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop using the facility to detain families. Detention profoundly impacts the emotional and physical well-being of children. It inflicts unspeakable pain on mothers to watch their children suffer in detention. It forces them to give up hope. Most of the mothers currently in detention have relatives or sponsors in the United States willing to take them in and support them. They do not have to be–and should not be–in detention.

The evidence is undeniable that many of these children and their mothers, who have been raped, kidnapped, beaten or shot to near death, are refugees who qualify for protection under U.S. law. Extremely high percentages of these detained women and their children have been granted asylum by immigration judges or been found to have a credible fear of persecution by asylum officers. Domestic violence in these Central American countries has reached crisis proportions. A U.N. Special Rapporteur reported in July that violence against women in Honduras is “widespread and systematic” and that 95 percent of violent crimes against women go unpunished by the police or other law enforcement. In most cases however, the U.S. government continues to rush these children and families through an expedited process, and has deported many back into the hands of their abusers and the very danger from which they fled. They deserve better treatment by the United States.

We urge you to stop the dramatic expansion of family detention, including the building of an enormous new facility in Dilley, TX. Instead, we recommend you greatly expand the use of alternatives to detention, bonds and other methods that are far less costly for American taxpayers and are highly effective in ensuring court appearances. Moreover, the removal process must be made more fair and guarantee that families fleeing violence have meaningful access to asylum, including access to legal counsel.

We look forward to the reforms you will implement on immigration and ask that you properly address the needs of these families. Please contact Greg Chen, Director of Advocacy at American Immigration Lawyers Association, gchen@aila.org, 202/507-7615, with any questions or followup.

Sincerely,

National Organizations
African American Ministers In Action
Alliance for a Just Society
America’s Voice Education Fund
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Law Alliance
Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
Center for Community Change
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-DC)
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Church World Service
Coalition on Human Needs
Detention Watch Network
Farmworker Justice
First Focus
Futures Without Violence
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
HIAS
Hispanic Federation
Immigration Center for Women and Children
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Jesuit Conference of the United States
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
MALDEF
National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC)
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA)
National Council of LA Raza (NCLR)
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law Center
National Immigration Project
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network to End Domestic Violence
Pax Christi USA
Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Disciples Home Missions (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ)
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sojourners
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Tahirih Justice Center
United We Dream
Washington Office on Latin America
Women’s Refugee Commission
State and Local Organizations
Advocates for Human Rights (Minnesota)
Alianzas de Phoenixville (Pennsylvania)
Alliance San Diego (California)
American Gateways (Texas)
Americans for Immigrant Justice (Florida)
Annunciation House, Inc. (Texas)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (California)
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (Washington, D.C.)
CASA de Maryland
CASA de Virginia
Causa Oregon
Central American Resource Center-D.C. (Washington, D.C.)
Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota
Church Council of Greater Seattle (Washington)
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) (California)
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition
Comite de Derechos Humanos Forks (Washington)
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (California)
Community to Community Development (Washington)
Community to Community, Bellingham (Washington)
Conversations With Friends (Minnesota)
Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc. (Texas)
Employee Rights Center-San Diego (California)
Equality New Mexico
The Family Partnership (Minnesota)
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Arizona)
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Friends of Broward Detainees (Florida)
Good Shepherd United Church of Christ (Arizona)
Grassroots Leadership (Texas)
Greater Hartford Legal Aid (Connecticut)
Green Valley / Sahuaritas Samaritans (Arizona)
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society-Pennsylvania
Hispanic American Law Student Association, Florida Coastal School of Law
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Human Rights Law Society, Florida Coastal School of Law
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic, Florida Coastal School of Law
Immigrant Defense Project (New York)
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Interfaith Center for Worker Justice-San Diego (California)
Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice-San Diego (California)
La Raza Centro Legal (California)
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (Texas)
Las Cruces Friends, Quakers, Peace and Social Concerns Committee (New Mexico)
Latino Advocacy (Washington)
League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces (New Mexico)
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (California)
Make The Road New York
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Migrant Power Movement (Pennsylvania)
The Minneapolis Foundation (Minnesota)
Nationalities Service Center (Pennsylvania)
New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice
New York Immigration Coalition
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
OneAmerica (Washington)
Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Rights (PBCCIR) (Florida)
Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC)
Philadelphia chapter of Japanese American Citizens League (Pennsylvania)
Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) (Pennsylvania)
Political Asylum Immigration Representation Project (Massachusetts)
Promise Arizona
Public Counsel (California)
Reformed Church of Highland Park (New Jersey)
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) (Texas)
Refugio del Rio Grande (Texas)
Sanctuary for Families (New York)
The Second Step (Massachusetts)
Sisters of Mercy (Nebraska)
Sisters of Mercy, Mid-Atlantic Community Leadership Team
Southern Poverty Law Center
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
Texas Appleseed
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic (California)
UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS)-San Francisco (California)
Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN)
Voces de la Frontera (Wisconsin)
Waco Immigration Alliance (Texas)
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Women’s Foundation of Minnesota
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago (Illinois)

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.

“They return just to die”

Child from Honduras

This post is part of a series delving into the plight of the Central American children and families fleeing violence in Central America. The series will examine the historical context of the crisis, challenges that refugees face, international human rights obligations, and costs of a response.

Children and families fleeing for their lives from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are being “processed”  by the United States at warp-speed and deported back to their “home” countries. Far too often, each person’s fate is quickly sealed upon their return. “There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm,” said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. “They return just to die.” Hernandez was quoted in the August 18, 2014 Los Angeles Times’ article, “In Honduras, U.S. deportees seek to journey north again.”

From the top down, the process seems to be operating under three simple principles: “Detain. Deny. Deport.” Nationwide, 70 percent of people seeking asylum make it through the initial step of the asylum process, known as the credible fear interview. That percentage does not hold true for the Central American children and families now at the U.S. doorstep. In fact, the percentage plummets to 37 percent at the government’s family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. This is not an accident; it is a deliberate policy decision to deter future asylum seekers.

Read about what is happening to people after they are deported in “In Honduras, U.S. deportees seek to journey north again.” For them, it’s a matter of life and death.

The Unholy Trinity Chasing Central America’s Fleeing Children

Child from Honduras

This post is the first in a series that will delve into the plight of the Central American children and families fleeing violence in Central America. The series will examine the historical context of the crisis, challenges that refugees face, international human rights obligations, and costs of a response.

Even before the U.S. refugee law was passed in 1980, during the final months of the Carter administration, Central American refugees faced an unequal and uphill battle for recognition. The resistance movements that challenged repressive and genocidal regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala were also up against anti-communist ideological fervor in the United States, which translated to U.S. economic, political, and military support for those regimes and their armies.

El Salvador’s civil war is generally said to have begun in 1980, but right wing death squads operated prior to that time, and so did the FMLN resistance to military-led governments, which repressed any human rights and labor organizing activities. 1980 was marked both by the election of the first civilian president since 1931 and by the military-backed assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Massacres, assassinations, and violence continued into the early 1990s. In 1991, a U.N.-sponsored peace accord led to recognition of the FMLN as a political party. President Marco Funes, elected in 2009, is a member of the FMLN political party.

In Guatemala, the CIA collaborated in the overthrow of a democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. A military government that replaced him ended any attempts at land reform or labor rights, and solidified the controlling position of U.S. banana companies. Guatemala’s long civil war began in about 1960 and did not end until 1996. It was marked by brutal right-wing regimes that promoted genocide against the Mayan half of the Guatemalan population, and particularly targeted teachers, religious figures, and peasant and union organizers. Current president Otto Perez Molina, a former general, was elected at the end of 2011 on a platform that promised he would rule with an iron fist. His promise to take on gangs and drug dealers has not met notable success. Extreme poverty, crime, and organized gang violence remain commonplace.

BBC calls Honduras “one of the least developed and least secure countries in Central America,” with “a spiraling homicide rate.” Its military allied with the United States in the 1980s, turning the country into a staging ground for the U.S.-sponsored contra war in Nicaragua. Though governments were elected after 1986, death squad activity continued. In the 2000s, gang activity escalates. A military coup in 2009 threw out a moderate-to-left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya, and drove him into exile. The current elected President Juan Orlando Hernandez was inaugurated in January 2014. Extremely high rates of gang activity continue, as do sometimes-violent conflicts over land ownership and use, mining, and human rights issues.

Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans, especially from El Salvador and Guatemala, fled to the United States during the 1980s. Because the United States backed the right-wing governments in those countries, it generally rejected their claims for refugee or asylum status. Then, as now, the United States offers unquestioned asylum to Cubans arriving on our shores because they fit U.S. anti-communist political ideology. Then, as now, the United States rejects Central American refugees because they don’t fit that easy anti-communism.

Even after the civil wars ended, repression of unions, human rights advocates, journalists, and others continued. In addition, Central American youth who had formed gangs in Los Angeles were deported back to their home countries. They brought gang structure and connections with them, proving stronger than the often-corrupt police. One police response was to target young people. Violence — both as part of gang culture and as standard police practice — was one of the legacies of the civil war era.

The 2006 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) further marginalized poor people in Central America. While granting some advantages to manufacturers, it disadvantaged small farmers, who now faced competition from cheaper (and subsidized) U.S. corn. Eight years after CAFTA implementation, poverty is still endemic in Central America, and particularly in Honduras and Guatemala.

Finally, the U.S. War on Drugs has shifted drug trade routes to Central America, with disastrous consequences. As Charles Kenny wrote in Bloomberg Business Week:

Trade routes can also be displaced. Around 2006, when Mexico declared war on its own drug cartels, violence ticked up in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. One result: The homicide rate in Honduras is now the highest in the world. The number of murders has more than doubled since 2006 and the rate is now 19 times that in the U.S., according to the United Nations.

Today’s refugee children flee violence, corruption, and instability in their home countries, a disaster fed by the unholy trinity of last century’s wars, CAFTA, and war on drugs.

By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

It’s Time to Take a Stand

Child from HondurasIt’s time to stand for welcome and to raise your voice to meet the critical needs of children and families seeking refuge. Your voice is needed to ensure that children and families seeking refuge retain access to compassion and justice.

A bill introduced this week in the U.S. House, if passed, would be devastating for children, asylum-seekers, families, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants. On Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced his Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5230) to address thousands of children and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States.

The funding measure is a wholly inadequate response to address children and families seeking refuge in America and fails to live up to our legacy as a nation of welcome for those fleeing persecution. International human rights standards require the United States to ensure that everyone seeking safety at our borders is met with the real opportunity to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

It is incumbent upon Congress to approve increased funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that protects refugee services, ensures adequate funding for the Department of Justice, and rejects the harmful practice of family detention.

The House is poised to vote on this bill as early as today, Wednesday.

Among other troubling provisions, the House proposal would:

  • Drastically underfund the ORR, the government agency responsible for serving resettled refugees, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations as well as providing shelter and care to unaccompanied children in the United States.
  • Roll back critical legal protections for children included in the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.
  • Increase the number of mandatory detention beds to keep vulnerable families with children behind bars
  • Expedite processing that will result in individuals with fear of persecution falling through the cracks.
  • Order the Department of Justice to rely more on videoconferencing in immigration courts and temporary Immigration Judge teams instead of increasing access to justice.

Your action is urgently needed
Make a difference for these children and families. Urge the House to oppose H.R. 5230 and instead, shelter and protect the children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and torture.

Contact your Representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find their direct office lines on their websites at www.house.gov.

Tell them:

  • As your constituent in [city, state] and a person of faith, I care about refugee children and families. Therefore, I urge you to oppose H.R. 5230, a funding measure that would have a devastating impact on vulnerable persons.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement must receive at least $1.2 billion for 2014, far more than this bill would provide
  • The Department of Justice also must receive funding sufficient to provide children with access to legal services
  • I am also deeply opposed to imprisoning children and families who have arrived at our borders seeking refuge
  • Finally, I urge you to oppose any changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008—children fleeing violence and seeking refuge deserve compassionate treatment, not detention, and meaningful access to protection and legal relief

Contact Michele Garnett McKenzie at mmckenzie@advrights.org and look at The Advocates’ resources on the issue.

Stay tuned
The Senate will consider its own supplemental funding measure in the next couple of days. We will keep you posted as the situation unfolds.