LAWGEF Expresses Concern over Continued Contradictions of Obama Administration Immigration and Refugee Policy towards Central American Migrants

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LAWGEF is encouraged that the Obama Administration is beginning to recognize that some migrants fleeing spiraling violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America are refugees. However, we remain concerned by the contradiction in the effort to expand refugee admissions for families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the region, and the continued reliance on a strategy of deportation, deterrence, and militarized border enforcement to keep those migrants from crossing the U.S. border.

4424Protesters participate in an immigration rally in Washington DC calling on
Barack Obama to end deportation raids. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

According to numbers and a statement released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on February 2, 2016, apprehensions of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border dropped dramatically from December 2015 to January 2016. In particular, DHS highlighted that the number of unaccompanied children dropped 54% from 6,786 in December to 3,113 in January, and the number of family units dropped 65% from 8,974 to 3,145.

This decrease follows a new enforcement strategy announced by the Obama Administration right before the Christmas holiday, which commenced with raids of Central American families in the first few days of January. During these initial raids primarily in homes in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took 121 individuals into custody, eventually deporting 77 of them back to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. Since then, allies report that fear has spread rapidly throughout immigrant communities in the United States, as well as throughout Mexico and Central America. Of particular concern is Secretary Johnson’s assertion on February 2nd: “While the one-month decline in January is encouraging, this does not mean we can dial back our border security efforts. Recent enforcement actions, which focus on those apprehended at the border on or after January 1, 2014, will continue.” Indeed, DHS raids have continued, and recent reports reflect that those targeted have real protection concerns. In late January, there were two reports of apprehensions of young men originally from El Salvador and Honduras, both who had come to the United States fearing targeted violence, who were apprehended on their way to school. Immigrant rights advocates in Cincinnati, Ohio reported that early in the morning of the same day as Secretary Johnson’s statement, ICE agents stopped women in a Central American immigrant community to ask for identification, spreading further fear and confusion around the motives and implications behind these enforcement actions. The targeting of these families and children continues to directly contradict the Administration’s stated priorities for removal and alleged position to avoid targeting families and those who have committed no crimes.

Secretary Johnson further affirmed that the expansion of its refugee admissions in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help individuals and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as announced by Secretary of State John Kerry on January 13, will be implemented “as soon as possible.” He stated that this program would build on the existing U.S. Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program and asylum process. LAWGEF welcomes this expansion and urges the Obama Administration to release more details on the timeline and scope of the program, including how it would improve upon the inefficiency and delays that the CAM program has encountered thus far and what mechanisms and resources would be implemented to ensure safety to those awaiting refugee processing.

LAWGEF has consistently called for a comprehensive package of protection for Central American families and children fleeing protection that includes an expansion of refugee resettlement programs as well as the immediate implementation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for individuals and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Immigration enforcement that continues to place families in children in danger and return them to the conditions they were fleeing does not constitute part of a protection package and needs to end immediately.

In his latest statement, Secretary Johnson stated that he had met with advocates about the raids and that he expressed respect for those views. However, rounding up and deporting youth and family members who fled horrific violence and for a better life in the United States back to danger is not consistent with respect for American values, nor the intention of expanding refugee admissions and offering “vulnerable populations in Central America an alternative, safe and legal path to a better life.”

We continue to demand a response from the administration to clarify its immigration and refugee policies towards Central American migrants once and for all, including recognizing the impact that enforcement actions are having on families and children in failing to deter them from fleeing conditions of violence and only placing them in further harm.