Statement on Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on unaccompanied minors

July 7, 2015

As the committee discusses Central American children who are seeking safety, Church World Service urges all Senators to recognize the importance of providing individuals access to life-saving protection. Children, families, women and men are fleeing violence, gang conscription, trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Northern Triangle. 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 by Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans fleeing to Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have increased by nearly 1200 percent since 2009.1 Individuals seeking safety within the region and in the United States have clear and compelling protection concerns.2 As the number of children and families seeking safety in the United States has risen in the past five years, the U.S. government has failed to recognize this as a refugee issue. Nevertheless, the United States has moral and legal obligations under international3 and U.S. law4 to see that individuals seeking protection are not returned back into the hands of traffickers and others who seek to exploit them.

CWS is strongly opposed to legislation that would roll back any part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act passed unanimously by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bush in 2008. Laws governing asylum should not be weakened just as more children and families are in need of their protection. Deporting children more quickly, before they are screened for trafficking and protection concerns, only perpetuates a cycle of vulnerable children whose concerns are not being addressed and who are passed along to further exploitation and abuse. Deporting vulnerable children places them back into the hands of gangs and those who seek to exploit them, and increases the power these groups hold over children and entire communities.

While CWS supports the Central American Minors Affidavit of Relationship  program, it is only one of many ways that the United States must offer protection to children fleeing violence. The 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 refugee or parole status in the United States. To apply, a parent with legal status in the United States must file an Affidavit of Relationship with a local refugee resettlement agency and undergo a rigorous screening process with a medical examination, in-person interview with the Department of Homeland Security and multiple security checks. 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 program began accepting applications from qualifying parents on December 1, 2014, with an estimated 1,900 applications received thus far. While this program will help some children reunite with their parents, it does not provide relief to the most vulnerable. The immediate and urgent need to flee after receiving threats or enduring violence makes waiting for this lengthy process a luxury many cannot afford. Children fleeing violence need protection, regardless of whether or not they have a parent living in the United States with legal status. The United States has a responsibility to provide protection for vulnerable children who cannot take part in the CAM/AOR program, including those who make the journey to the United States on their own. The migration of families and individuals who make the journey to the United States to seek protections is completely legal under U.S.5 and international6 law.

However, the United States has provided increased assistance and training to military and police forces in Mexico and the Northern Triangle in order to prevent individuals from reaching the United States. From October 2014 to April 2015, Mexico detained and deported nearly 100,000 Central Americans.7 Individuals intercepted in Mexico do not receive proper screenings for protection concerns, and a large percentage of those deported to their home countries are in fact eligible for international protection,8 making their deportation refoulement, or unsafe return, which is illegal under international, U.S. and Mexican law.9 That the United States has not only been complicit in this, but in fact has encouraged it, is incredibly troubling, unlawful, and sets a dangerous precedent in terms of territorial access and the protection of vulnerable populations. CWS encourages all Members of Congress to prioritize the protection of children who are in danger and seeking safety. This includes affirming the need for rigorous asylum processes both in the United States and in Mexico to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not returned back into harm’s way. Real solutions must address the root causes of migration, rather than escalating enforcement and preventing individuals from seeking safety. Migration will continue so long as the region is plagued by corruption, human rights abuses by local authorities, the militarization of police, high impunity rates, and weak institutions. CWS is committed to working with the Senate, House, and Obama Administration to address these very real issues so that children can in the Northern Triangle are able to grow and thrive without having to flee their homes.

1UNHCR “Children on the Run,” July 9th 2014.
2UNHCR “Children on the Run”, July 9, 2014.
3The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 3, 6 and 22.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14.
United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII).
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, A Framework for the Protection of Children and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
4U.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.
5U.S. Code Title 8: Aliens and Nationality, Chapter 12: Immigration and Nationality, Section 1158: Asylum.
6Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14.; United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII).; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.; and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Note on Non-Refoulement, 23 August 1977.
7Washington Office on Latin America “Mexico Now Detains More Central American Migrants than the United States”; and The Mexican Secretariat of the Interior, “Boletín mensual de estadísticas migratorias méxico, 2014.”
8UNHCR Report “Arrancados de Raíz”.
9Ley de Refugiados y Protección Complementaria” (Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection), UNHCR. and “Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama,” RefWorld.