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Central American Families & Children Arriving at U.S.-Mexico Border Demonstrate Need for Urgent Protection Mechanisms

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October 19, 2016

LAWGEF Infographic Migration Root Causes
See LAWGEF infographic for more information on the situation of violence and displacement in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Download the pdf here.

The new figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published with a statement by Secretary Jeh Johnson on October 17, 2016, report a total of 408,870 apprehensions along the U.S. Southwest border in FY 2016 (October 2015-September 2016). This represents an increase of 23% from 2015 but still a 14% decrease from 2014 figures. There were 59,962 unaccompanied children apprehended in FY 2016, versus 68,541 in FY 2014. However, the number of family units–77,674 in 2016—exceeded 2014 figures and was almost double the number last year.

These increases should come as no surprise as the violence, corruption, and impunity driving internal displacement and migration from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) remains unabated in 2016.

“Families and children from Central America fleeing for their lives will not be stopped by tougher border enforcement. The United States and other governments in the region need to respond from a protection, not security, lens. This humanitarian crisis requires human rights-focused assistance, partnerships with civil society organizations in the region, and effective protection mechanisms to respond to asylum seeking families and children,” states Daniella Burgi-Palomino, LAWG’s Senior Associate on Mexico, Migrant Rights, and Border Issues.

The U.S. government announcement in July 2016 on expanding in-country processing and refugee resettlement in the region were welcome first steps to recognize the protection needs of individuals from Central America; yet the programs remain incipient, pending implementation, and continue to be marred by delays and bureaucratic obstacles for families and children with urgent needs.

Mexico has made commitments to strengthen its capacity to provide asylum to Central Americans, but has yet to make demonstrable progress in screening individuals for protection needs and ceasing to return families and children to danger. So far in 2016, 16,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended in Mexico and less than 1% received refugee protection. More cooperation between the United States and Mexico to strengthen border enforcement at Mexico’s southern border will remain an ineffective and costly way to stop migration flows from Central America. Those who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border suffer violence in transit through Mexico at the hands of organized crime and corrupt migrant authorities and are then locked up in poor conditions in processing and detention facilities without access to legal counsel and chances to make their cases heard.

LAWG urges the Obama Administration to show leadership in responding to the continuing refugee crisis from Central America with a comprehensive approach. That means implementing improved mechanisms to process families and children humanely at our border and working with governments and civil society organizations in the region to address root causes and increase access to protections in country.

For more information, see the following fact sheet from LAWGEF and partners:
Central American Refugees: Root Causes and the Flawed U.S. Response