January 8, 2016
Over the last few days, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been rounding up and deporting dozens of members of Central American families seeking refuge from extreme violence and dire economic conditions in their communities of origin. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has described the move as part of an effort to “secure” the U.S. border and has announced that “additional enforcement operations such as these will continue to occur as appropriate.”
These raids are the latest chapter of what can only be described as a prolonged U.S. government war on migrant families, and specifically those coming from the most dangerous and economically deprived parts of Central America.
Following the public outcry generated by the mass detention of child migrants from Central America during the summer of 2014, the U.S. government enlisted Mexico’s security forces to carry out the dirty work of aggressively apprehending and repatriating migrants fleeing rampant violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador (collectively referred to as the “Northern Triangle”). With promises of economic assistance, the U.S. then successfully lobbied Northern Triangle governments to use their security forces to further suppress migration towards the U.S.
The U.S. government has also engaged in an unprecedented militarization of its southern border – as Secretary Johnson proudly stated, the U.S. has carried out “the largest deployment of vehicles, aircraft, boats, and equipment along the southwest border in the 90-year history of the Border Patrol.”
But, as the recent uptick in border apprehensions has demonstrated, all of these aggressive measures have failed to curtail migration from Central America. They have only succeeded in driving migrants further underground, and exposing them even more to extortion, rape, abductions and physical assaults on their way north. Migrants are fully aware of the risks posed by organized crime and abusive security forces and know that thousands have died or disappeared traveling through Mexico and into the United States. But the horrific conditions in their communities remain a worse alternative.
The latest raids – targeting an immigrant population that UN officials and others have described as largely composed of refugees –are part of a cynical effort to keep Central American migration from becoming a damaging wedge issue and embarrassing the administration at a politically critical moment.
But it should be clear by now that deportation raids won’t discourage future migration or resolve the crises that drive people from their homes.
Instead, the U.S. needs to genuinely address the root causes of Central American migration. To do so requires policy makers to take a hard look at existing U.S. policies toward the region, which have had and continue to have an enormous impact on its inhabitants: the war on drugs and economic policies that increase poverty, destroy traditional livelihoods and lead to the forced displacement of communities.
The violence that plagues the Northern Triangle is directly linked to the militarized drug war that the U.S. has been promoting in the region for over a decade. The U.S. government has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into security forces that have a long history of abuse, corruption and complicity with organized crime in Central America and Mexico. The fight-fire-with-fire militarized response to drug trafficking has led to an explosion of armed violence that has reached unbearable levels in poor communities.
The poverty and lack of decent jobs reflects the failure of a development model that lowers market and labor regulations to attract foreign direct investment that ends up benefiting the few, and erodes public-sector services.
Sadly, the recent U.S.-backed Alliance for Prosperity plan – officially designed to address the root causes of Central American migration – contains measures known from experience to exacerbate the key problems the region faces by generating further economic instability – for example, through privatization and environmentally-destructive mega-projects and large-scale resource extraction – and by deepening counterproductive drug-war tactics.
With a politically-motivated crackdown mentality, the Obama Administration ignores the ways in which U.S. policies are driving the exodus. We do so at our own peril, and at the peril of thousands of children who have every right to grow up in a safe and loving environment.
Secretary Johnson cites the need to “enforce the law consistent with our priorities.” Both national and international law are clear on the right to asylum determined through full hearings with adequate legal representation. These rights are being denied to Central Americans whose lives are in danger.
Homeland Security has the gall to conclude its statement justifying the raids with the phrase, “we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity.” From all angles, these raids are neither fair nor decent nor humane.
For these reasons, we, the undersigned organizations working in the fields of human rights, Latin American solidarity, immigrant rights, women’s rights and fair foreign policy, call for humanitarian protection for Central American migrants through administratively-granted relief and for an immediate halt to the raids. We also urge the U.S. administration and policy makers to review and reconsider U.S. policies toward Central America that have contributed to the conditions that force families to leave their homes to save their lives, and that violate their human rights on arrival in the United States.
Center for International Policy Americas Program
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
Guatemala Human Rights Commission
School of the Americas Watch
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Friendship Office of the Americas
Sisters of Mercy – Institute Justice Team
JASS (Just Associates)
Rights and Ecology
William C. Velasquez Institute
Just Foreign Policy
Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano