New Refugee Resettlement Program Important, but Limited Tool; U.S. Must Still Engage Robust Asylum Response
January 13, 2016—KIND welcomes the Obama Administration’s decision to engage with the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to screen those fleeing extreme and growing violence in Central America to determine if they are eligible for U.S. protection as an important step toward recognition that the region is experiencing a refugee crisis. However, refugee resettlement is a limited response that must be accompanied by full and fair access to the U.S. asylum system for those Central American families and children who reach our borders, as well as more robust asylum responses from other countries in the region, such as Mexico.
A key to protection will be ensuring that claims are heard in a timely way so that a long term solution can be reached—whether it is resettlement in the U.S. or in another country in the region—as quickly as possible. This is particularly important for children as an uncertain fate is damaging to their development and well-being. Child protection officers and best interests determinations must also be built into the process for cases involving children.
Claims for refugee status must be analyzed with an acknowledgment of the many different types of claims involving threats or harm by gangs, narco-traffickers, and other organized criminal syndicates—including sexual and gender-based violence targeting both girls and boys. Additionally, children’s claims for protection must be examined with a child-sensitive lens that takes into account their development and particular vulnerability.
While this new resettlement program is unquestionably a step in the right direction, the U.S. must also ensure that women and children can still apply for protection at the U.S. border through a full and fair process, which includes having an attorney to represent them in their case.
The Central American Minor (CAM) in-country refugee processing program must also remain in place as a complementary approach to protection. Children in the CAM program, as well as this new resettlement program, also need access to pro bono attorneys to explain the process and support them in preparing their cases.
A robust asylum process that ensures due process and fundamental fairness is the most critical component in addressing a refugee crisis. Resettlement programs can be used strategically to support this response, but must not be viewed as a substitute for U.S. asylum obligations, as well as the asylum obligations of Mexico and other surrounding countries.