As a 71-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 34 refugee resettlement offices across the country, Church World Service (CWS) opposes the administration’s termination of parole in the Central American Minors (CAM) program and urges the administration and all Members of Congress to affirm the need for robust protections for asylum seekers and other vulnerable young people. Our collective moral responsibility to welcome and protect is critical to preserving the treasured American values of humanity, solidarity, and hospitality.
On August 15th, 2017, the U.S. government announced that the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/USCIS) would no longer consider or authorize parole for children and families in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to come to the United States as part of the CAM program. Meanwhile, vulnerable, unaccompanied children are fleeing deadly, and escalating, violence in these three countries. Although the United States is receiving an increasing number of asylum claims, it is the region’s neighboring countries – in particular, Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama – that are dealing with a 1,185% increase in asylum applications from those leaving Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. There is an urgent need to address the root causes of this humanitarian crisis, matched by a spike in the UNHCR-registered number of asylum-seekers in the Americas from these three countries.
As a world leader in combatting human trafficking, it is critical that U.S. policies recognize the importance of access to protection for children, families, women, and men fleeing violence, gang conscription, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation in the Northern Triangle. Since 2005, in Honduras alone, murders of women and girls have increased by 346 percent, and murders of men and boys have grown by 292 percent. Asylum requests by Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans fleeing to Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize have increased by nearly 712 percent since 2009. The U.S. government has failed to recognize these trends as a refugee and humanitarian issue. The United States has moral and legal obligations under international and domestic immigration law to ensure that individuals seeking protection are not returned to their traffickers and others who seek to exploit them. CAM is a step in the right direction in providing children protection, and by eliminating the parole option, the administration is forsaking a tool with which they can protect vulnerable children.
Unaccompanied and separated children come to the United States seeking protection from sexual violence, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation and abuse. In response, the U.S. government has intensified efforts to apprehend and deport these children. In fact, DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has engaged in a concerted effort to remove women and children who were seeking asylum in the United States and sent many of them back to a region with the highest murder rates in the world. In January 2017, organizations filed a complaint with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), alleging “turn backs” of individuals who had expressed a fear of returning to their home countries. More recently in May 2017, a report was released highlighting that this practice is ongoing and that many asylum seekers are being turned away by CBP agents. Such practices violate existing legal and moral obligations, and new barriers to protection for vulnerable populations dangerously impede these obligations.
We need the administration and congress to place humanitarian values at the center of U.S. policies. We should not only address root causes, but also ensure individuals already in the United States have an opportunity to seek protection and are not separated from their families. We must offer protection to those in the United States when it is unsafe for their return home – precisely the conditions El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala face. One of these solutions is Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which affords the administration an important tool to extend protection to vulnerable populations. DHS has already sent many back to a region with endemic violence and persecution where they face the imminent threat of being murdered just days after they return. Between January 2014 and September 2015, several nationals deported back to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were reported to have been murdered. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, limiting access to protection is the wrong approach. The U.S. government should respond by expanding CAM and re-designating TPS for these protections.
As communities of faith, we are united by principles of compassion, stewardship, and justice. CWS urges the administration and all Members of Congress to prioritize the protection of children and families who are in danger and seeking safety, as families flee torture, violence, and other human rights abuses. CWS is committed to working with Congress and the administration to develop real, sustainable solutions to enhance the stability of the region and the protection of vulnerable populations.