WASHINGTON – A coalition of faith leaders and immigrant-rights activists are advocating for the Trump administration to “guarantee the rights of all individuals” in the Northern Triangle of nations to seek asylum and enter the U.S. as refugees.
Northern Triangle countries include Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“We urge the Trump administration to respond to this refugee crisis with polices that guarantee the rights of all individuals to seek asylum in the U.S. and other countries in the region, as well as foreign policies that are based in human rights in consultation with civil society,” Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, program director of migration policy at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Advocacy Office (ELCA), said last week on a conference call with reporters.
“We are troubled by U.S. policies that fail to acknowledge our duty as a nation to protect the most vulnerable and address the root causes of forced displacement in Central America,” Ibarra added.
Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), said the “violent actors” present in Northern Triangle nations “continue to force people to use migration as a means of survival.”
According to Nuñez, entire “family units” are beginning to flee El Salvador to seek refuge in the United States.
“We’ve been getting indications that gangs are actually following families and are now beginning to operate both in the border regions, which puts those families in danger because now the violence is following them but also puts in danger the workers that work in shelters that provide needed services to the fleeing families,” he said, explaining that the cartels have territorial control in certain areas of El Salvador.
“There’s beginning to be, particularly from El Salvador, a flow southward to Costa Rica – so it’s not that people are not leaving, they are just not arriving at the U.S. southern border,” he added.
Nuñez argued that increased U.S. and Mexican “enforcement-only” measures at the border against illegal immigration are forcing migrants to seek refuge elsewhere, which makes the overall situation worse.
“If the Trump administration continues to push for enforcement-only measures and militarization, it will only make the situation worse, and migrants seeking refuge may turn to other countries for protection such as Mexico, Belize, and Costa Rica in an effort to escape the violence,” he said in a written statement.
Lisa Frydman, vice president for regional policy and initiatives at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), said there is “ramped and unchecked sexual and gender-based violence” forcing men, women and children in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to flee their homes.
“[DHS] Secretary Kelly has accused Central American asylum-seekers of lying to U.S. immigration officials in order to gain entry to the United States and has specifically accused Central American families of abusing the U.S. immigration system by sending children to the United States when they do not need protection. Secretary Kelly’s remarks grossly miscategorize the situation,” she said on the call. “They send a worrying message about the United States’ commitment about protecting refugees.”
Frydman said the “conditions on the ground” in Northern Triangle nations have created the refugee crisis. She said the U.S. already has a “lengthy” screening process in place for asylum-seekers.
“On average, two women are murdered each day in Guatemala and in El Salvador; a woman was murdered every 16 hours in 2015. These victims have nowhere to turn because the impunity rate in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is at 95 percent for these crimes and because child protection systems are weak and unfunded in these countries,” Frydman said.
“When they reach the United States, we have the moral and legal obligation to recognize those who qualify as refugees. Doing so is consistent with America’s tradition of providing safe haven to those in need,” she added.
Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), said Mexico should not help the U.S. with increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border if it means turning away asylum-seekers.
“Mexico should not agree to cooperate with the United States if it means deporting asylum-seekers back to harm. Instead, it should act on its commitment to protect migrant rights – not just those of its own citizens but also of the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans seeking protection in Mexico,” Burgi-Palomino said.