LAWG Disturbed by DHS Claims on Deterrence and Enforcement against Asylum-seeking Families & Children

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March 9, 2017

On March 8th, the Department of Homeland Security announced a decrease in its apprehensions of migrants at the southwest border for February compared to January, highlighting a drop in the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors and family units. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) is disturbed by the Trump Administration’s conclusion that its executive orders have successfully deterred migrants and created an “unprecedented decline in traffic” of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, justifying the need for future enforcement actions.

These numbers are only one data point of the overall situation of migration to the United States. They do not provide a broader picture of the flow of migrants and asylum seekers at our southern border or of all of the factors influencing the dynamics of current flows. Since the end of last year, NGOs have documented several cases of men, women, families, and unaccompanied children who were denied entry to the United States at various ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border despite having claimed a fear of returning to their home countries or an intention to seek asylum under U.S. law. Secretary Kelly’s statement does not provide direct evidence from asylum seeking families and children that information on new U.S. policies under the Trump Administration changed their decision to flee their homes or come to the United States.

Past reports have documented how similar enforcement measures and messaging campaigns on the dangers of the journey under the previous U.S. administration have failed to deter Central American families and children. Currently, the situation in the three Northern Triangle countries of Central America—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—remains dire. Families and children continue to be forcibly displaced internally or to migrate internationally to seek protection. The three countries had a combined total of 14,870 homicides in 2016. Individually they were still well above the minimum of 10 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants identified by the United Nations to constitute an epidemic of violence, with El Salvador at 81 murders, Honduras at 58, and Guatemala at 27 per every 100,000 inhabitants. According to a report from the Civil Society Working Group on Internal Displacement based out of El Salvador, the reasons behind a family’s decision to leave its home tend to be interrelated and not limited to one singular cause. In 2016, the main causes were threats and extortion from gangs, and the homicide or attempted murder of family member. Women and girls in particular endure high rates of domestic and sexual violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Individuals do not have access to justice for the threats against their lives and crimes they suffer; all three countries have impunity rates for human rights violations near 90%.

Secretary Kelly’s statement also reports a significant increase in smuggling fees—as much as 130%—for crossing the U.S. border. This increase in cost does not necessarily prove that fewer people are attempting to cross, as Secretary Kelly said, but rather it could indicate that the demand is higher or the risks and cost of evading U.S. enforcement are greater.

The increase in militarized enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border as mandated by President Trump’s executive orders will not solve the humanitarian crisis driving migrants and asylum seekers from Central America, as well as other countries, to seek protection in the United States. LAWG urges the Trump Administration to consider the broader effects of its hasty and costly efforts to build walls and spread fear. There is nothing humane or legal about enforcement policies that aim to separate children from their families or to deny them due process on seeking asylum. Instead the U.S. government should be working with governments and civil society in the region to address the root causes of violence and corruption, and to strengthen systems of protection at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the region.