Latin America Working Group Encouraged by Protection Approach in Secure the Northern Triangle Act

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July 11, 2016

The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) is encouraged by the protection approach taken by the Secure the Northern Triangle Act, introduced in June by Democratic Leader Reid and Senators Leahy, Durbin, Schumer, Murray, Carper, and Cardin. The bill proposes a comprehensive and coordinated response to address root causes driving the flow of refugees and migrants from the Northern Triangle countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and to improve protections for asylum seekers and refugees in the region, including upon their arrival to the United States.

LAWG welcomes many of the positive elements of the bill including measures to address the cycle of violence, corruption, poverty, and impunity in the Northern Triangle, protect particularly vulnerable populations including LGBT individuals and women, improve in-country refugee processing, expand third-country refugee resettlement, ensure safe repatriation and reintegration of returned migrants, and strengthen Mexico’s national asylum system; many of which were recommendations a group of organizations made earlier this year.

The bill also includes important human rights conditions on 50 percent of the assistance to Northern Triangle governments to ensure that they are taking effective steps to combat corruption, protect journalists, trade unionists, and human rights defenders, consult with civil society and local communities in the design of development plans that affect them, and investigate and prosecute members of security forces implicated in gross human rights abuses. Human rights and anti-corruption conditions on U.S. assistance are useful tools that can help ensure aid is measurable and protects those most at risk. However, such conditions must be actively enforced with input from civil society if they are to have an impact.

The bill proposes crucial cooperation with international organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to expand third-country refugee resettlement programs and strengthen Mexico’s weak asylum system. By working with the UNHCR and Mexico to increase access to asylum for Central American migrants, instead of supporting border enforcement that pushes asylum seekers into more vulnerable situations or deports them back to harm, the United States can demonstrate its leadership in protecting refugees. Improvements to the Central American Minors (CAM) in-country processing program that the bill proposes are also critical. Since its inception in 2014, the program has yielded far too few results for children and youth who require expedited removals from danger in their home countries, not long delays and complicated application procedures.

Finally, the bill also sets forth vital measures to protect Central American migrants and asylum seekers upon their arrival in the United States. In particular, the provisions for legal counsel under the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act for families and children seeking asylum are urgently needed to ensure due process throughout their immigration proceedings in the United States.

LAWG emphasizes the need to address migration and forced displacement from the Northern Triangle countries with an approach that prioritizes humanitarian assistance and protection instead of ineffective and inhumane enforcement measures. Even with the improved approach laid out in this bill, LAWG remains concerned about assistance to the Northern Triangle and will continue to call for greater transparency, more civil society consultation, no support for militarized law enforcement, and a tough approach to violations of human rights by security forces. We will also continue to call for comprehensive immigration reform. But the proposals made in the Secure the Northern Triangle Act are a step in the right direction. They begin to outline what a more balanced United States response to the situation in the region could look like, in alliance with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as civil society groups and international organizations.