July 29, 2016
LAWG is encouraged by the announcement made this week by the U.S. government to expand protection mechanisms for asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. The initiatives named in the announcement are a positive step toward recognizing many of those fleeing this region as refugees and are a welcome response to measures many civil society organizations had called for earlier in the year. LAWG remains deeply concerned, however, by the lack of access to asylum and due process available to the families and children arriving at the U.S. border who would not be granted protections under the announcement as well as raids targeting and deporting these vulnerable populations since the beginning of this year.
The U.S. government announcement included a three-pronged strategy: (1) a Protection Transfer Agreement (PTA) between the UNHCR, IOM, and the Costa Rican government to temporarily host the most vulnerable cases in Costa Rica while awaiting refugee processing and onwards resettlement to the U.S. or another third country; (2) in-country referral/processing program for those cases that do not require immediate transfer to Costa Rica; and (3) expansion of the existing Central America Minors (CAM) program criteria to include siblings, parents, and caregivers of qualifying children. These three initiatives were accompanied by the announcement that the Mexican government had made a commitment to strengthen its own asylum capacity.
While the agreement is a positive direction in the Obama Administration’s recognition of potential refugees from the region, LAWG continues to call for a comprehensive protection response to displacement from Central America both in the United States and in the region. The just-announced steps, including in-country processing, expansions to the CAM program, and an emergency transfer site in Costa Rica for individuals awaiting refugee processing, have the potential to alleviate the needs of some families and children fleeing from Central America. Further details on the implementation of these plans will be welcomed. The proposed U.S. support to promote an integral approach to strengthening Mexico’s asylum system is also crucial. These efforts need to be coupled with longer-term, human rights-focused U.S. assistance to work with Central American governments and civil society organizations to address corruption, violence, and impunity in the Northern Triangle countries. Government collaboration with civil society and international organizations, as well as transparency in the implementation of all of these processes, is vital.
A comprehensive strategy, however, also includes changing the current ineffective enforcement and deterrence strategies enacted by the Obama Administration that are returning many asylum seekers back to the very danger they are fleeing. Legal counsel and due process for families and children from the region arriving at the U.S. border must be ensured so that they have a fair chance at making their cases. The implementation of additional measures such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for individuals from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador should be granted. LAWG recognizes the latest announcement as a good beginning to implementing an overdue protection-centered approach in the region. Nonetheless, for the United States to be a true leader in addressing refugees flows from Central America, a balanced approach that includes all of these policies continues to be necessary.