Press Release: LAWG Encouraged by President Biden’s Day 1 Actions, Yet Urges Serious Transformation to U.S. Immigration System and U.S. Policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean

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January 21, 2021

Lauri Alvarez, Program Associate, (202)-546-7010

LAWG Encouraged by President Biden’s Day 1 Actions, Yet Urges Serious Transformation to U.S. Immigration System and U.S. Policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean

Washington D.C. –The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) is encouraged by President Biden’s Day 1 executive actions to address the pandemic, climate change, and racial justice and protect immigrant communities as first priorities in repairing the damage caused by the former administration. LAWG welcomes the inclusion of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, including Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries, and immigrant farmworkers in Biden’s immigration bill as well as the focus on halting border wall construction and investing in border communities. 

We are also encouraged by the aim to reinstate access to protection for refugees in Central America. LAWG welcomes the suspension of new enrollments in the Remain in Mexico (MPP) program on Day 1 as the first step in the termination of the program, a goal for which we have long advocated. We recognize President Biden following through on his promise to pause deportations from within the United States for 100 days as a crucial step while enforcement priorities are reviewed and as countries receiving deported migrants are still reeling from the pandemic and natural disasters. These are important first steps to begin repairing the harms to immigrant communities, refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers and to restore protections that organizations have worked hard to defend.

Yet, President Biden must not stop with these actions. It is not sufficient to simply revoke and restore policies. These actions must only be the beginning for transformative change to our U.S. immigration system and U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean. 

“Will the $4 billion aid package for Central America included in the immigration bill help solve why people are forced to flee their homes in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador?” asked LAWG co-director Lisa Haugaard.  “That depends what’s in the package and whether it is paired with strong diplomacy against the massive corruption, human rights abuses, and authoritarian trends we are seeing in these countries.  Pouring aid into corrupt, predatory governments and abusive security forces is not the answer. Nor is the answer just promoting private investment. Private and multilateral bank investments need strict safeguards in countries like Honduras and Guatemala where the needs of indigenous, Afro-descendant and poor communities are routinely ignored and their demands met with threats and violence.”

“Targeted humanitarian assistance through civil society organizations can help communities address poverty, prevent violence, face the COVID-19 crisis, recover from the impact of devastating dual hurricanes, and mitigate climate change.  Supporting anti-corruption initiatives and judicial reforms is essential. The Biden Administration should provide such aid.  But promising $4 billion in aid by itself isn’t the answer.  Promise instead that the United States will stand, not with corrupt or authoritarian officials in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but with the citizens working for change,” Haugaard concluded.

“We appreciate President Biden following through with his promises on his first day in office to suspend the Remain in Mexico program along the border and to temporarily halt deportations from within the United States. These are good first steps in the unwinding of a long series of policies that have caused untold harm to asylum seekers and immigrant communities. Yet there are still thousands of men, women and children that have been denied access to protection at our border and are now waiting to be processed. President Biden must move ahead by announcing how these people will be processed humanely and have a new chance to make their claim. The Biden Administration must also halt the Title 42 expulsions. Until that happens, our asylum system cannot begin to be restored. Organizations on both sides of the border will hold the President accountable to his promise to restore asylum and are ready to work together to build a more humane, accountable and just immigration system,” states Daniella Burgi-Palomino, LAWG co-director.

The Latin America Working Group Education Fund published two reports with other organizations that outline specific actions needed to change U.S. policy towards the northern countries of Central America and Colombia. Serve Your People:  A Roadmap for Transforming Relations Between the United States and the Northern Countries of Central America highlights priorities for a new policy that goes far beyond undoing recent attacks on the rights of asylum seekers, immigrants, and migrants. It recommends that a new administration start with principled diplomacy against corruption and for human rights and stand with civil society forces for change. This vision calls for supporting equitable development strategies and helping countries address the impact of climate change. The report outlines ways the United States can help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas. These actions must be driven by a new vision that encourages Central American governments to serve their people, with equity and justice, reverting away from enforcement-centric immigration policies to ones that are humane, inclusive, and just.

Protect Colombia’s Peace urges the U.S. government to adopt the full implementation of the peace accords as its principal diplomatic message for Colombia. This joint U.S.-Colombian initiative advocates for U.S. aid and stronger diplomacy to call on the Colombian government to implement the peace accord’s ethnic chapter and gender provisions, ensure justice for the victims of the armed conflict, protect human rights defenders, advance sustainable drug policy and rural reforms to reach Colombia’s small farmers and Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, end abuses by the Colombian armed forces, and dismantle the paramilitary successor networks. The report recommends that the United States boldly encourage full compliance with the peace accords before it is too late.