FIRM Calls for an Immediate Halt to Raids on Central Americans Seeking Refuge
Parts of Central America are experiencing pervasive and systemic levels of violence, connected to increasing territorial influence of criminal armed groups. The United Nations recently declared Honduras to be the deadliest country in the world, with El Salvador and Guatemala close behind. Organized criminal groups are so powerful that international law experts have analogized the situation in the Northern Triangle to a conventional armed conflict.
Deporting those experiencing this violence back to these horrific conditions is not a reasonable or rational response. We call on our leaders to reflect the values of our country and provide real assistance to those seeking refuge.
FIRM demands that President Obama, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and ICE Director Sarah Saldana immediately put an end to this misguided plan to raid people’s homes and tear families apart. The reliance on enforcement-only tactics at the expense of families seeking refuge while essentially ignoring the bigger picture challenges driving families to the U.S. is irresponsible and inhumane.
FIRM calls on President Obama to immediately stop deporting families fleeing violence in Central America and uphold longstanding refugee protections by taking the following action:
- Protect people who qualify for DACA and DAPA from deportations.
- Expand Temporary Protected Status to individuals in the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras more than justify a current TPS designation.
- Expand the CAM program.On December 1, 2014, the U.S. State Department announced the official launch of an in-country refugee processing program for some children in certain Central American countries known as the Central American Minor Program or “CAM”. The program allows parents with lawful presence in the United States to apply for their children living in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras to come to the United States as refugees through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Children who do not meet the definition of a refugee, but are still at risk of harm, may be eligible on a case-by-case basis to travel to the United States safely and legally as humanitarian parolees. FIRM believes the CAM program is too limited in scope to meet current needs. At this time, the CAM program is available only to children determined to be in danger of persecution who have parents with lawful presence in the United States. This limited scope restricts protection to a very small segment of the children who desperately need it. FIRM urges President Obama to expand eligibility for the CAM program to include vulnerable populations such as at-risk children and families without family members with lawful presence in the United States.
- Improve safety mechanisms for children and families applying for the CAM Program.Many children face danger when applying for the CAM program in their home country. We urge President Obama to put in place safety mechanisms to ensure child applicants and their families are safe while their cases make their way through the in-country application process, including providing transportation and safe shelter to applicants who live outside capital cities where processing takes place.
- Improve CAM application processing time. Currently, applicants must wait for several months to complete the CAM process. Processing times must be improved and an expedited processing system should be developed for high-risk cases.
- Engage community-based organizations on the CAM program. ORR lacks the necessary funding and resources to process CAM applications. We urge President Obama to direct his administration to partner with experienced, community-based organizations with deep roots and knowledge of the target community on the application process.
- FIRM urges the U.S. government, in consultation with Central American partners, to develop a comprehensive regional humanitarian response plan. The U.S. government should work with Central American governments to address the root causes of the violence in Central America as well as strengthen the regional protection system so that children and migrants have better access to asylum, humanitarian visas and anti-trafficking systems across the region.
- Ensure due process protections are in place in accordance with traditional values of American justice. Individuals in adversarial proceedings should have an attorney. Expedited hearings for unaccompanied children and mothers with children, so-called “rocket dockets”, do not allow enough time to find an attorney or prepare their case. Every individual, including unaccompanied minors, should have legal representation in immigration proceedings – if necessary, at government expense.
- All individuals should receive appropriate screening for humanitarian relief by trained, experienced personnel. There are widespread reports of inadequate screening for asylum and other humanitarian relief by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. We urge President Obama to increase training and accountability mechanisms to ensure those seeking refuge receive adequate protections as required by international and domestic law.
- Appoint child advocates for vulnerable children. Federal law permits the appointment of child advocates for child trafficking victims and other vulnerable unaccompanied children. Their role is to advocate for the best interests, safety and well-being of a child. Child advocates are particularly necessary for infants and toddlers who are too young to seek the advice of an attorney, or for other children who may lack capacity to make informed decisions about their cases.