One year ago, in June 2014, President Obama referred to the unprecedented numbers of children and families fleeing violence in Central America and arriving at the southern border as an “urgent humanitarian situation.” However, the Administration’s response has been anything but humanitarian. Instead, over the past year, the U.S. government has detained those who arrive, and forced them to have their claims for asylum heard in prison-like detention facilities. They have used expedited processing to remove mothers and children from the country as quickly as possible—with most, including children as young as toddlers, lacking access to counsel during deportation proceedings—and pursued policies designed to ensure that future asylum seekers are stopped before they make it to the U.S. border.
Today, the life threatening dangers these refugees face in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America have not diminished. In fact, recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) statistics show that violence has led to a staggering 1,185 percent increase since 2008 in asylum applications by Central Americans to countries in the region other than the U.S. What has changed is that their ability to access protection has declined significantly.
It doesn’t have to be this way: The U.S. can respond to the situation facing these children and families and address the root causes of violence in Central America while still living up to our nation’s long history as a nation that welcomes and protects refugees and other vulnerable populations.
This memo reviews the Administration’s response to children and families over the past year and suggests a better path forward.