Central American aid package could violate refugee rights

Press Release

Contact: Laura Embree-Lowry, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) [email protected] (202) 521-2510

Human rights advocates to Senate: Central American aid package could violate internationally-protected refugee rights

Sixty organizations call on Senate to uphold international protections for asylum-seekers, end U.S. policies that contribute to regional violence and inequality

Washington, DC – In advance of Senate’s markup of the FY16 State and Foreign Operations bill on Thursday, over sixty U.S. organizations sent a letter calling on members of the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on them to rectify potential violations of international protections for Central American refugees that were introduced by House Republicans in their draft bill.

Leading religious, labor, and human rights organizations warn that conditions included in the House’s bill that would require Central American countries to take action, including militarization of their national borders, to stop migrants from leaving the region in order to receive continued US assistance violate core tenets of international law that protect the freedom to leave one’s country. Additional conditions would obligate Central American governments to collaborate with expedited deportations from the United States, which the letter warns could violate asylum seekers’ right to present petitions for legal protection.

In 2005, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that the expedited removal process places asylum seekers at risk of being returned to countries where they may face persecution. The recent murder of a Honduran boy within days of his repatriation from Mexico is a harrowing example of the consequences of policies like Mexico’s militarized Frontera Sur (“Southern Border”) program, which was launched in July 2014 and targets Central American migrants on their way to the United States, including asylum seekers.

“It is particularly troubling that U.S. officials are encouraging these interdiction efforts in Mexico and that Mexican deportations have nearly doubled in the last year with the help of U.S. training and equipment. Evidence has shown that the Mexican authorities are regularly violating their obligations under the Refugee Convention and under Mexican law. This policy may make the U.S. government complicit in rendering Central American refugees to their persecutors,” said Shaina Aber, Policy Director for the Washington-based advocacy office of the Jesuits.

Cathy Feingold, Director of International Affairs at the AFL-CIO, proposes an alternative. “Instead of criminalizing refugees who are fleeing poverty and violence, the U.S. government should focus on the root causes of the migration crisis,” she says. “U.S. foreign and trade policies incentivize the creation of low-wage, precarious jobs that leave workers without protections or a voice on the job. A sustainable solution to the crisis requires addressing the lack of decent work, particularly scant opportunities for young people, which has contributed to the economic insecurity and high levels of violence driving people out of their homes.”

Azadeh N. Shahshahani, President of the National Lawyers Guild, agrees that the U.S. bears responsibility for the conditions that the White House’s budget request purports to address. “Through its military and diplomatic support for corrupt and undemocratic governments such as those in Honduras and Guatemala, the U.S. government itself created the conditions that gave rise to extreme poverty and violence, forcing people to flee their homes,” she says. “Instead of incentivizing further militarization, the US government must fundamentally change its foreign policy.”

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