Pax Christi USA has signed onto the letter below. The letter was initiated by three important immigrant advocacy and civil rights organizations: Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). The letter urges President Obama to reconsider his administration’s plan to expedite the deportation of Central American children at the border. We must ensure fair, humane and appropriate treatment of these children. The President is expected to send his Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) request to the Hill early next week.
Dear President Obama:
We, the undersigned immigration, civil and human rights, faith, labor and community organizations, urge you to reconsider the plan to expedite the deportation of Central American children to the dangers they escaped in their home countries. The administration’s recent statements have placed far greater emphasis on deterrence of migration than on the importance of protection of children seeking safety. At a time when the region is confronted with a major humanitarian crisis, our nation cannot compromise on fundamental principles of compassion, fairness, and due process, nor on our international refugee protection obligations.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that almost 60 percent of children fleeing to the United States from Central America are legitimate asylum seekers. The United States is not alone in seeing higher than normal migration flows – according to UNHCR, other countries in the region have experienced a sharp increase in the number of asylum applications filed by Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans since 2008. From 2008 to 2013, the number of such applications filed in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize increased by 712 percent.
We are deeply concerned that the administration will circumvent the protections of the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 and remove the children apprehended at the border through a non-judicial process. Instead of affording these children proper screening for trafficking and persecution, as well as the opportunity to receive fair and full consideration of their legal claims before an immigration judge, the administration appears to propose to quickly deport them, without access to legal counsel, following cursory screenings that have already proven entirely inadequate to identify genuine refugee claims among Mexican children.[i]
Congress gave consideration to the unique circumstances of children when it enacted the TVPRA. The law includes protections such as the facilitation of counsel and the appointment of child advocates that help ensure that unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries receive proper care and that their requests for asylum and other legal relief are processed fairly and in a way that is consistent with their age and development. As it stands, the proposed plan would appear to place at risk these existing legal protections, jeopardizing the lives of children seeking only safety in the United States. Undermining due process and protection under the law is not the right answer, and certainly will not appease the criticisms of those who have been calling for more punitive and aggressive enforcement. The cost of pushing vulnerable children back into dangerous or deadly situations is simply too high.
Now is the time for America to demonstrate its international leadership and commitment to refugee protection and due process. We oppose any plan to amend the TVPRA to weaken the protections afforded to children from Central America, and we urge you to ensure that the rights and safety of these children are guaranteed.