Dear President Obama:
We write on behalf of immigrant communities across the country to express our concern and disappointment over reported plans by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct further immigration raids on women and children fleeing violence in Central America in search of refuge in the United States.
The use of harsh enforcement tactics and detention as deterrents will not stop women and children who are facing sexual assault, brutal beatings, and even death from seeking refuge in the U.S. These women and children come to the U.S. seeking safety. Pursuing these families seeking refuge with little and too often no due process and returning them to the same violent conditions from which they fled sows fear and division in our communities and violates who we are and what we stand for as a nation.
We urge the Administration to reverse course and instead take the following steps to ensure that Central Americans fleeing to our borders in search of protection are treated humanely and that access to legal protection and due process is ensured:
- Cease the use of raids and halt any further deportations of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America. Central American women and children seeking refuge should not be high priorities for deportation. At a minimum, the Administration must do more to ensure women and children receive a fair and meaningful chance to have their cases heard.
- Expand Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all individuals in the Unites States from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras justify a current TPS designation. International law experts have stated that the organized criminal groups in the region are so powerful it is analogous to a conventional armed conflict. It is understood that the Presidents of all three countries support this designation.
- Expand the Central American Minors Affidavit of Relationship (CAM AOR) program. This program allows certain parents with lawful presence in the U.S. to apply to bring their children from Central America to the U.S. as refugees.
- While this program is well-intentioned, it should be better resourced to bring more vulnerable children and their caregivers to the United States more quickly with minimal risk to the applicant children.
- End family detention and instead allow families to reunite. The fundamental failings of the family detention system cannot be corrected by labeling detention facilities that hold children “child-care” or “processing” facilities. Instead, community-based alternatives to detention (not just electronic ankle bracelets) should be used when necessary to ensure court appearances and only in those cases where DHS has established a person is a flight risk.
- Stop fast-tracking the removal of children and families. Rapid procedures like expedited removal and so-called “rocket dockets” in immigration court undermine due process and substantially limit the ability of asylum seekers to access the legal relief they are entitled under U.S. and international law.
- Establish a system to ensure legal counsel is appointed for those who cannot afford an attorney. No one should be forced to navigate our complex immigration and deportation systems alone, especially children and those seeking asylum – representation by counsel is the single most important factor in the success of an asylum claim.
- Ensure access to attorneys, child welfare experts, and more information about the immigration system. DHS should establish a system that provides expanded access to Legal Orientation Programs (LOPs), legal counsel, and professional caseworkers with experience working with traumatized children at border processing facilities and throughout the immigration process.
- Ensure migrant children are able to enroll and meaningfully participate in school. An April 2016 report by the Women’s Refugee Commission and Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project found that some school districts have policies that discriminate against undocumented students and inhibit their ability to receive a meaningful education. The report also found DHS’s January 2016 enforcement actions against families and children have had clear adverse impacts on student children and their ability and willingness to attend school. Federal authorities should improve training and guidance to local school districts to ensure compliance with federal law and work with local school districts on policies to reduce the chilling effects of DHS’s enforcement actions.
We hope we can work together on a longer-term comprehensive solution to the challenge of violence in Central America that causes so many people to make the dangerous journey in the first place.