U.S. Government Recognizes that Families Fleeing Central America are Refugees
Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center.
CHICAGO (January 14, 2016) — Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) welcomes the announcement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. government will partner with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide refugee screenings to people fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
The announcement is a long-overdue response to a refugee crisis that has played out for more than two years and resulted in deaths and family separation as men, women, and children have fled the region, often only to be turned back by misguided U.S. deterrence policies.
The announcement recognizes that because the Northern Triangle governments are unable to protect their citizens, individuals fleeing gender violence and persecution by the criminal organizations and drug cartels that control these countries are no different than refugees who have fled war and violence in other regions of the world.
Just as the U.S. government has agreed to provide refugee screenings for individuals who remain in danger in the Northern Triangle, it must ensure a chance at protection for those who already have fled to the United States. With this announcement, NIJC calls on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt its raids on Central American families in the United States and provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for individuals from the Northern Triangle.
DHS also must release the women and children who have been detained in the raids and subsequently had their deportations halted by judges who found they had been denied a fair opportunity to pursue protection.
Raiding the homes of asylum seekers is inhumane and counterproductive. Since the raids began two weeks ago, NIJC has heard from hundreds of individuals who are afraid to leave their homes, attend school, and participate in daily life because they worry an encounter with DHS could lead to deportation for them or a loved one. The U.S. government must instead work with Central American governments to address the violence that is forcing so many refugees to flee.
In the meantime, a comprehensive humanitarian relief package—including third-country refugee screenings, continuation of the Central American Minors in-country processing program, TPS designation for the Northern Triangle, and a fair asylum system—will help keep thousands of innocent women, men, and children safe from persecution, death, and unnecessary family separation.
With offices in Chicago, Indiana, and Washington, D.C., Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org.