As a 70-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices across the United States, Church World Service (CWS) welcomes the introduction of “Secure the Northern Triangle Act” (S.3106/H.R.5850). CWS applauds the provisions affirming protections for refugees, asylum seekers, human trafficking victims, and other vulnerable individuals fleeing persecution and violence. This legislation recognizes that the plight of children fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador must be treated as a humanitarian crisis and refugee situation – rather than an as an immigration enforcement issue.
S.3106/H.R.5850 calls for the United States to work with international partners and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, to expand access to asylum in the Northern Triangle. This is pivotal, as Mexico in particular does not have a functional asylum system, and 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 bill would also expand in-country and refugee resettlement processing in the region, including but not limited to improvements in the Central American Minors Affidavit of Relationship program. As we face escalating violence in the region, it is essential that the U.S. government support both refugee processing from afar and access to asylum and protection for individuals who make it to another country in search of safety.
This legislation includes The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, which would ensure that children who seek protection in the United States have access to counsel, legal orientation programs, and post-release services while they await their immigration court date. Currently, children and even infants have to appear before immigration judges without any representation. As a consequence, an overwhelming majority of children without attorneys are ordered deported. This bill would ensure that children have legal representation so that they can fully present their case for protection. The bill would also reduce delays and strengthen the U.S. immigration system by expanding the number of immigration judges, improving the use of technology, and enhancing training on child protection.
S.3106/H.R.5850 would improve family reunification and placement procedures to prevent unaccompanied children from being exploited by traffickers and abusers. The bill would require consistent, uniform, and timely background checks on all individuals seeking sponsorship of unaccompanied children, and ensure that post-placement wellness checks take place. It would also help local school districts serve unaccompanied children by providing resources and guidance.
We appreciate this bill’s attention to the root causes of why children and families are forced to flee the Northern Triangle, and its emphasis on transparency and accountability to counter corruption. Funds to alleviate poverty, increase community-based violence prevention programs, and support job creation and trade promotion are key to building a safe and livable space for all.
As we all seek ways to meaningfully respond to the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Central America, CWS urges Congress to affirm the importance of protection for asylum seekers, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. Real solutions must address root causes, rather than escalating enforcement and preventing individuals from seeking safety. CWS is committed to working with Congress and the Administration to develop sustainable solutions to enhance the stability of the region and the protection of vulnerable populations. Let us reflect the best of our nation by extending hospitality and leading by example so that other nations do the same.
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, An Administration Made Disaster: The South Texas Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors. June 25, 2014. < www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/1_UAC_UNHCR% 20Statement%20for%20the%20Record_HJC%20Hearing%20on%20UACs.pdf >.