CWS statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, regarding its hearing on the Central American Minors Refugee / Parole Program on Thursday, April 23, 2015
As the committee discusses the Central American Minors Affidavit of Relationship (CAM/AOR) program, Church World Service (CWS) urges all Senators to recognize the importance of providing safe avenues for children to seek protection from violence, conscription into gangs, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. In Honduras alone, murders of women and girls have increased by 346 percent, and murders of men and boys are up by 292 percent since 2005. Asylum requests in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize by Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans have increased by 712 percent since 2009. Children seeking safety within the region and in the United States have clear and compelling international protection concerns.1
The United States has moral and legal obligations under international2 and domestic3 law to see that children seeking protection are not returned back into the hands of traffickers and others who seek to exploit them. The CAM/AOR program is one of many steps that the U.S. government can and should take to help these children, and it is not without precedent. The United States has used in country-processing to help Cubans4, Haitians5, Soviet Jews6 and Vietnamese7fleeing violence and persecution. The CAM/AOR program continues our historic efforts of providing safe haven to vulnerable populations in need. CWS urges both chambers of Congress to support the program and validate the importance of access to life-saving protection for children and all individuals seeking safety.
Over the past three years, the number of unaccompanied children seeking safety in the United States has increased substantially, from 6,800 in 2011 to an estimated 90,000 in 2014. Recognizing the different demographics of these children — they are younger, with more girls and victims of trauma than ever before, and the majority are from the Northern Triangle — the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the CAM/AOR program. This program is designed to help unmarried children under the age of 21 from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who have a parent living in the United States and meet other criteria seek refuge or parole status in the United States. To apply, a parent with legal status in the United States must file an Affidavit of Relationships (AOR) with a local refugee resettlement agency that contracts with both DOS and the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. In certain cases, if the child’s other parent is living with them in the Northern Triangle, they can also be included in this process. The screening process is rigorous, with a medical examination, in-person interview with DHS and multiple security checks. The program began accepting applications from qualifying parents on December 1, 2014. As of the writing of this statement, only 565 applications have been received.
The realities of corruption, weak institutions, human rights abuses by local authorities, and militarization of the police have created environments of chaos, insecurity and vulnerability in the Northern Triangle that are forcing many to flee. The combination of high impunity rates, military and police complicity with gang violence, and lack of secure witness protection programs mean that there is little to no recourse for victims of violence and that, in fact, reporting crime can put individuals at further risk. Children are most at risk, and forced conscription into gangs and sexual violence are being waged on grade-school age children. For these reasons, the CAM/AOR program is needed as one of many ways that the United States must offer protection to children fleeing violence. CWS encourages all Members of Congress to support these efforts that are critical to the well-being of so many children in danger who seek safety and reunification with their parents in the United States.
1 UNHCR “Children on the Run”, July 9, 2014. www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/1_UAC_Children%20on%20the%20Run_Full%20Report.pdf
2 The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 3, 6 and 22. www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14. www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a14
United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII). www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f05a2c.html
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, A Framework for the Protection of Children.www.unhcr.org/50f6cf0b9.html and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html
3 U.S. Code Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse, Chapter 78: Trafficking Victims Protection; and U.S. Code Title 8: Aliens and Nationality, Chapter 12: Immigration and Nationality, Section 1158: Asylum. http://uscode.house.gov
4 CRS Report 40566, Cuban Migration to the United States: Policy and Trends, Ruth Ellen Wasem, June 2009.
5 CRS Report 7-5700, U.S. Immigration Policy on Haitian Migrants, Ruth Ellen Wasam, May 2011.
6 Rabinovitch, Zara, “Pushing Out the Boundaries of Humanitarian Screening with In-Country and Offshore Processing”. Migration Policy Institute, October 16, 2014. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/pushing-out-boundaries-humanitarian-screening-country-and-offshore-processing
7 Finberg, Harvey, Richardson, Leroy and Martin, David. The Orderly Departure Program From Vietnam. April 1990. The United States General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/assets/220/212436.pdf