The Crisis Continues: Central American Migrants Fleeing Violence

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Authors: Lisa Haugaard, Angelika Albaladejo, Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Emma Buckhout

by Lisa Haugaard, Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Emma Buckhout and Angelika Albaladejo

José Nain Guttierez of AMIREDIS

José Nain Gutierrez, a member of the Honduran Association of Returned Migrants with Disabilities (AMIREDIS). Photograph by Angelika Albaladejo.

Sixty-eight thousand children, alone, without their parents, made the deadly journey from Central America to the U.S. southern border last year. As a parent, I can’t even imagine letting my daughter when she was eight or ten years old walk alone down an unfamiliar city block, much less have her set off to walk for weeks without me to face smugglers, abusive border guards, and organized crime. The situation in the Northern Triangle of Central America must be absolutely desperate if families are encouraging their children to make this frightening journey.

At the Latin America Working Group, we have felt a strong moral obligation to do more to address this humanitarian crisis. We have ramped up our efforts to call for an end to abuses against migrants and refugees as they travel through Central America, Mexico, and the United States. And we have redoubled our efforts to address the violence, human rights abuses and poverty that are leading children, women and men to flee their homes. Here are some of the actions we’ve taken this year with your help.

Investigating what’s happening to deported migrants. We joined a verification mission to Honduras in July with our partner Project Counselling Service (PCS Latin) to investigate what is happening to deported migrants. We found that while deportations from the United States have decreased and the children who arrived last year are not yet being deported, deportations of men, women, and children have dramatically increased from Mexico. They are still fleeing violence and poverty, but they are being detained before they reach the U.S. border.
While the wonderful Scalabrini Sisters in San Pedro Sula provide some immediate care for migrants deported from the United States, migrants returning from Mexico are simply left at the Guatemala- Honduras border to walk home. There are virtually no programs for deported migrants to rebuild their lives in Honduras, no jobs, and no protection for anyone, including children and teenagers, who fled because of violence from gangs, organized crime, or corrupt government officials.

We denounced abuses and called for improved programs for returned migrants and migrant-sending communities in meetings with Honduran authorities and the international community and spoke at a press conference in Tegucigalpa. In September, we brought members of the verification mission to Washington, organized meetings with the State Department and highlighted our findings at a special briefing hosted by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress. 

Investigating violence driving migration from El Salvador. LAWGEF visited San Salvador in September to take a look at the security issues driving internal displacement within and migration from El Salvador. We met with civil society groups, human rights defenders, and academics who all emphasized the roles of violence and fear as push factors for migration. “No one in this country lives without this incredible fear,” explains a community violence prevention expert.

Migration from El Salvador is often preceded by forced displacement inside of the country. Individuals or families who flee their homes due to threats, violence, and extortion by gangs —and in some cases as a result of state violence— often stay with various family members or friends around the country until they’ve exhausted all options. Because the Salvadoran government has yet to formally recognize the crisis of internal displacement, these individuals are left without protection or support. When these displaced Salvadorans flee the country, they have little to no time to prepare; they leave everything behind and migrate without a plan, making them “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” says Dr. Mauricio Gaborit of the University of Central America (UCA). Before the end of the year, we will publish a full report of our investigation into issues of security and human rights in El Salvador.

Calling on our government to stop pressuring Mexico to escalate deportations. We launched a petition to ask our government to stop pressing Mexico to do its dirty work when it comes to militarized immigration enforcement. Escalating deportations in Mexico are violating the human rights of migrants, denying them access to asylum, and exposing migrants more dangerous routes and further abuses by corrupt immigration and security authorities. Thanks to all of you who joined this effort. It’s not too late to sign at

At the same time, we’re working with Mexican migrant shelters and regional human rights groups to call on Mexican authorities to end abuses of migrants and respect their rights to international protections. As we did earlier this year, we will continue to highlight specific instances of abuse by migration authorities, such as attacks by Mexico’s federal police and immigration authorities against migrants on the train in May. We stand firm that Mexico must work to increase accountability and transparency among these authorities, and any U.S. assistance to them should support that effort. 

San Pedro Sula Returned Migrant Center
Returned Migrant Center in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Photograph by Lisa Haugaard.

Calling on U.S. authorities to respect the rights of migrants. LAWGEF is working hard to encourage U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to improve practices that have placed migrants at greater risk. We are playing a central role coordinating dialogue with CBP on how migrants are detained, treated and deported, as well as CBP use-of-force policies that have endangered migrants and U.S. border communities.

Helping our Mexican and Central American partners raise their concerns on U.S. immigration and foreign policy towards the region. We published a guide in English and Spanish on the current state of U.S. immigration policy and the debate on U.S. assistance towards Central America, so that civil society groups in the region can better advocate on these rapidly shifting and complex policies. This guide is available for download at: We also bring Central American children’s, migrant, and human rights activists and advocates to meet with Congress and the State Department to share their firsthand, informed views.

Advocating for U.S. policies and assistance that address, rather than fuel, the violence and exclusion driving migration. The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have called for increased U.S. funding in an “Alliance for Prosperity” plan. But we must make sure that no U.S. assistance flows to corrupt and abusive security forces, militarized approaches to law enforcement, orcorruptbusinessesorofficials. Weknowfromthe bitter past that U.S. efforts to help can often serve to prop up corrupt governments. We must listen to the movements against corruption and impunity in Guatemala that spurred President Otto Perez Molina to resign in September, and similar movements of “los indignados” (the “fed up”) in Honduras.

So we’re calling on our Congress and the White House to support UN mechanisms that investigate corruption like Guatemala’s Commission to Investigate Clandestine Groups (CICIG); to fund the UN High Commissioner for Refugees efforts to increase protections; to ensure that any U.S. assistance is linked to tough human rights conditions; to refrain from any support to militarized law enforcement; to consult with a wide range of Central American civil society groups; and to channel aid to sound, community-based, civil society initiatives to help poor neighborhoods racked by violence or farming areas affected by drought and coffee blight.

These aren’t easy issues. And we’re facing them in a climate in which angry voices call for walling off the U.S.-Mexico border. We’ll need your support as we work for more humane policies towards those seeking refuge from violence. Refugees aren’t just from Syria, they’re our neighbors in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

This article originally appeared in The Advocate, LAWG’s biannual newsletter. Download the Fall 2015 issue of The Advocate here.